NASCAR: Xfinity driver Daniel Suarez, ex-NFL WR Willie Gault win Gridiron Challenge (VIDEO)

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A four-wide dash on the final lap ended with Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity driver Daniel Suarez and former NFL wide receiver Willie Gault taking the checkered flag to win NBC Sports’ NASCAR Gridiron Racing Challenge presented by Toyota.

The 20-lap race ended a series of competitions involving six tandems of NASCAR drivers and ex-NFL players at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Before the serious business began, the day started with a laugh as Joe Gibbs himself jokingly gave the football greats something he figured they may need: Diapers.

The players then ran in single-car qualifying on the 1.5-mile oval to begin the Challenge. Rod Smith, another former NFL receiver, paired with JGR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, ran the fastest time:

Then came the second event: A football throwing competition for the NASCAR drivers, where every ball through a target meant seconds taken off their respective player’s qualifying time.

Busch bested Suarez in their head-to-head match-up – probably a given as Suarez admitted beforehand that he had never thrown a football before.

As for the other match-ups, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer topped JGR newcomer Carl Edwards …

… and Denny Hamlin defeated Matt Kenseth, even with the latter earning three points for putting a late throw through the deepest target.

Edwards may have lost his duel with Bowyer, but his five passing points allowed him and NBC Sports’ Super Bowl XLIX pregame analyst Hines Ward to claim the pole position for the 20-lap race.

For this final event, the players rode along in the passenger seat as their driver teammates raced at more than 180 miles per hour. On the last lap, Suarez went to the inside of Busch/Smith, Bowyer/Christian Okoye, and Kenseth/Doug Flutie as they all barreled into Turn 3.

As Bowyer slipped back, Suarez passed Busch for the lead in Turn 4 and went on to victory.

The ex-NFL stars all came away impressed not just with the speeds, but with the precision that’s needed to drive a race car. During the halfway intermission of the race, Smith had this to say about riding shotgun with Busch:

The Super Bowl XLIX pregame show on NBC will feature a segment of the Gridiron Challenge. Pregame coverage from Arizona begins Sunday at Noon ET.

NASCAR Gridiron Racing Challenge presented by Toyota
Charlotte Motor Speedway – Results

1. 18-Daniel Suarez/Willie Gault
2. 15-Clint Bowyer/Christian Okoye
3. 18-Kyle Busch/Rod Smith
4. 20-Matt Kenseth/Doug Flutie
5. 19-Carl Edwards/Hines Ward
6. 11-Denny Hamlin/Brian Mitchell

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”