Jimmie Johnson is going for seven titles, but isn’t the story at Media Tour

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At the 2014 NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, Jimmie Johnson was fresh off his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and inadvertently at the center of a controversy when former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb said Johnson “wasn’t an athlete.”

Johnson has the same goal for 2015 as a year ago – win multiple races and capture his record-tying seventh Cup championship.

But unlike last year, he isn’t the overall story heading into the season. He wasn’t even the biggest story on his own team Thursday — something crew chief Chad Knaus had fun with during a 2015 Media Tour.

Johnson discussed entering another year of stability with Knaus, primary sponsor Lowe’s, and a No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet crew that remains intact.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” Johnson said of the championship. “The championship seems so far away. We had a shot last year, and it came and went. It hasn’t been on my mind.

“The way we finished up the ’14 season isn’t something we’re happy with. We need to be better.

“This week is about Jeff Gordon and the introduction of Chase (Elliott) to the 24. But it’s weird to see someone you’ve idolized be retiring … ”

It was at that moment Gordon, among those most responsible for Johnson’s Cup success having discovered him more than a dozen years ago, morphed from teammate/driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet into Hendrick Motorsports media day court jester.

“I didn’t take that the way everyone else did!” he deadpanned, to much laughter.

“Yeah it’s a weird experience,” Johnson said. “We are seeing him start the process of the last year.”

Johnson poked fun at himeslf, too, noting a rare mistake he made in a recent triathlon.

“I added a couple miles… I missed a turn,” he said.

“You think you’d approach an intersection with eight cops there, and at least one would say you went the wrong way. I went straight on through. Then nobody was there. So I turned around.

“To everyone’s surprise, I did miss a left hand turn.”

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.”