NASCAR: Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski glad for test time in Vegas

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With all private team testing now banned in NASCAR, any chance to get extra track time means that much more to teams and drivers.

For Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and A.J. Allmendinger, being able to turn laps in a Goodyear tire test today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway could prove important for them when the series hits Sin City in early March.

And especially so for Kenseth, who along with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates will be driving an all-new Toyota Camry this season.

“I think any track time you get is really important with the new testing rules, banning all off-season testing, which I think we all like, but you’ve really got to take advantage of the tests when you get them and try to gather as much information as you can – hopefully useful information that you can use down the road,” Kenseth said today at LVMS according to a track release.

“For us, we didn’t run particularly well last year and we’ve got a new nose on the Camry this year and new rules changes and aero package and all that stuff, so we’re just trying to get it sorted out and try to find a baseline and hopefully find something that drives good so we’ve got something decent when we come back here.”

Keselowski, who will enter Vegas as its defending race champion after outlasting Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year, also seeks to make the most out of every moment in tests like this.

But with new members on his No. 2 Team Penske crew, he noted that it was an opportunity to build a rapport and get them some experience.

“More so than the changes to the car, the testing ban makes every test you do have that much more critical because you have so much less,” he said. “In that light, a lot of what testing is isn’t always developing the car, but you’re developing your people, developing your techniques.

“We added two or three more people to our team so we’re trying to develop them and get them up to speed, so it’s really a great time for us as a team to have a test.”

As for Goodyear, they were able to get more impressions today on how their tires will fare with the new 2015 aero package on an intermediate oval.

The company held a two-day tire test back in December at another intermediate, Charlotte Motor Speedway, with drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Paul Menard, and Sam Hornish Jr.

Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, believes that Goodyear “got what they needed” in today’s session. But he’s not sure how all of the changes stand to impact him and the No. 2 team.

“It’s still hard to tell,” he said. “It’ll take some different style tracks and different style tires, because that’s one of the big factors for us in how our car handles. There are certain tracks and tire combinations that favor us and that we run really well with and there are others where you could say we’re not as strong.

“It’s hard to say, just based off this one test, if we feel like we’re where we need to be.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”