RCR seeks wins, momentum carryover into 2015

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Richard Childress Racing went winless as a whole in 2014, but still assembled one of the more solid, steady seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field.

The team came up 50 yards short of the title when Ryan Newman came second to Kevin Harvick at Homestead-Miami Speedway, in both the Ford 400 season finale and the Championship Four showdown for the 2014 Sprint Cup title.

Although as Childress put it Thursday at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, “I’d like to say we were one caution flag short instead of 50 yards. But that was history.”

History now for Childress is adding to its legacy of race wins and championships, and mainly, getting all three of its full-time drivers on the board in 2015.

Newman and Paul Menard are each seeking their first win since a Brickyard 400 triumph (2013 for Newman, 2011 for Menard) while Austin Dillon seeks his first win at the Cup level.

“We came close,” Childress said. “You look at what Luke (Lambert, crew chief) and Ryan what they did in their first year, what Austin did as a rookie… he and Paul were both there with a couple races left to make the Chase. But this year, we all know we gotta win races to get in the Chase.”

On the subject of wins, Childress joked he already has one this year, having beat Dillon in a ride up the new “Daytona Rising” project at Daytona International Speedway.

“I won the first race at Daytona this year, right Austin?” Childress quipped.

Dillon, for his part, enters his second full-time season in Sprint Cup with perhaps higher expectations, but lower media scrutiny.

With Dillon’s arrival, the famed No. 3 returned to a Cup grid for the first time since 2001. Dillon of course won the pole at the Daytona 500 and finished ninth. He added one top-five and three more top-10 finishes the rest of the way en route to a 20th place finish in points.

If there was one very good takeaway from Dillon’s first season, it was his ability to bring the car home. He didn’t register a single DNF in 36 races and that aids his confidence coming into 2015.

“At the Speedway (Daytona), you need a bit of luck, but you have to put yourself in position to the end,” Dillon said. “I’m excited about the speedway races. Adjust (the plan) when you get there and be ready for anything.

“The rest of year, really excited. I’m back with Gil (Martin, crew chief). We made some changes within the team. Looking forward to the opportunity. Finishing a lot of races was big for our team. You’ll see us up front more.”

Menard, ever the quiet one, was low-key during the press conference itself but looks to build off of what was his best statistical season. The Wisconsin native posted career-highs in top-five (five) and top-10 (13) finishes, although he fell from 17th to 21st in points.

Childress also announced a couple housekeeping items.

Grainger, which Childress noted his team has raced against for many years, has joined in a multiyear partnership. Grainger will be a primary sponsor for selected races on Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet starting with Pocono in June, and as an associate for all others of which it isn’t the primary.

Additionally, Childress confirmed two of his three full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott, will race selected Sprint Cup races this year. A formal announcement is expected next week; both are also expected to be part of a five-car lineup at the Daytona 500.

The team has made some other staff changes over the winter and is working diligently on its ECR engine program. Richie Gilmore has been confirmed as ECR’s new president, Childress announced.

But Childress, as ever, kept the focus on the racing as the team looks for a breakout 2015 where wins, and not just consistent top-fives, top-10s, and near-winless title runs grabbed the headlines.

“This year going in, you’ll see some of the hardest best racing we’ve ever seen in NASCAR.” Childress said. “Now you know how important it is to be in the 16. To make the Final Four was unbelievable. Ryan and Luke gave us a great chance to win the championship.”

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.”