Danica Patrick: 2014 was a success to build upon for ’15

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While she finished 28th in the Sprint Cup standings, one spot lower than she did in her rookie season in 2013, Danica Patrick considers her sophomore season in 2014 a success of sorts.

During Tuesday’s appearance on the annual NASCAR Media Tour, Patrick slightly bristled when a reporter said 2014 was a sub-par season for both her and teammate Kurt Busch.

“I think sub-par is a matter of opinion,” Patrick said. “I think in my second year in the Cup series, there were certain things I wanted to work on and things we wanted to work on as a group.

“I feel there was drastic improvement. Although the overall championship position didn’t really show that, there was a lot of improvements in areas we wanted to. So, I consider that a success.”

Despite sliding in the rankings, Patrick improved her average finish (22.3 from 30.1) and finish (23.7 from 26.1) and also placed a career-best sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September (after a seventh at Kansas Speedway in May).

Patrick had been mentored the past two Sprint Cup seasons by veteran crew chief Tony Gibson.

But in a swap with three races remaining last season, Gibson became Busch’s crew chief, and Daniel Knost, Busch’s first-year crew chief, was switched to oversee Patrick’s team and crew.

Patrick didn’t finish higher than 18th in the final three races with Knost, whose interim tag was removed after the season.

“Moving forward with Daniel brings up new possibilities,” Patrick said. “With a new person, there’s new perspectives and new ways of getting things done. We’re going to be working hard to put all of our best ideas together and stay positive and make our goals happen.”

And while Gibson was moved to Busch’s Chevrolet, he’s still available for advice if Patrick needs him. But Patrick believes she and Knost can build as strong a bond as she had with Gibson.

“It’ll be kind of picking up where I left off with Tony Gibson and his guys that taught me so much,” Patrick said. “They really helped me get much further to the front, qualifying much better and running much better.

“I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of a learning curve (with Knost), but I think we can overcome that sooner rather than later. … I’m really excited because of what was happening last year and the improvements made. And also to develop better relationships, obviously, with a new crew chief and a new group.

“We need to get to know each other sooner than later, so I’ll be putting a lot of hard work into getting our communications going as quickly as possible.”

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

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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.”