NHRA: Shawn Langdon and Alan Johnson Racing hope for strong Phoenix run to keep racing going forward

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After a storybook finish to what had begun as a nightmare, Alan Johnson Racing is back to square one of sorts in this weekend’s Carquest Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.

When Al-Anabi Racing unexpectedly pulled its sponsorship from AJR four weeks before the start of the 2015 NHRA season, Johnson vowed to run at least the first two races, the season opener at Pomona, Calif., and this weekend’s race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

After this weekend, though, the team’s future is up in the air. AJR is continuing to pursue sponsorship opportunities to replace the lost Al-Anabi funding and keep moving forward in 2015.

In the season opening Winternationals, AJR driver Shawn Langdon had a perfect weekend. Not only did he record the quickest 1,000-foot elapsed time in NHRA Top Fuel history (3.700 seconds), he qualified No. 1 and ultimately wound up winning the race to boot.

“I don’t think Pomona could have been any more perfect,” Langdon said in an AJR media release. “We made the quickest pass ever, qualified No. 1 and got the win the first race out.

“We did what we set out to do. Everything we tried to do in testing all came together at Pomona, and it was absolutely a picture-perfect weekend.”

It was Langdon’s second career win in the Winternationals, and AJR’s fifth win in the last six races (both the season-opening Winternationals and season-ending World Finals) at Auto Club Raceway.

Langdon, who now holds not only the quickest elapsed time mark, but also the fastest speed (334.15 mph, set at Reading, Pa., in 2012), has high hopes that AJR can pick up where it left off two weeks ago at Pomona.

“Going on into Phoenix, we have to keep the momentum going and keep plugging away with what we’re doing,” said Langdon, who is No. 1 in the standings, 32 points ahead of second-ranked Antron Brown. “The car is responding well.

“We’re still working on sponsorship to fund the car through the 2015 season. We’re hard at work trying to get the race car running well and running consistently, but we’re also hard at work trying to get sponsorship lined up for the season.”

Johnson hopes to keep his team – which was pared down from two dragsters to just one after Al-Anabi’s pullout – moving forward and continue competing on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

There are 24 races on the NHRA national event schedule. With one race down, 23 remain – including this weekend – and AJR hopes to make all of them, even though the team is approaching everything one race at a time pending acquisition of additional sponsorship.

“I’m hoping the Knuckle Sandwich/AJPE team can pick up right where it left off in Pomona (at) Phoenix this weekend,” said Langdon, who won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 2013. “They have a lot of new improvements at the race track in Phoenix, and I’m excited to get back there this weekend.

“A couple of the cars ran well there in Phoenix testing (in late January) so that shows the track is good.  We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.  Our confidence is definitely sky-high; we’re all very motivated right now, and we’re ready to go racing in Phoenix.”

NOTES: Langdon’s No. 1 qualifying position at Pomona gave him 17 for his career, tying him with the late Blaine Johnson for career No. 1 spots. Blaine Johnson, who died in a racing accident in 1996 at Indianapolis, was Alan Johnson’s brother. … AJR has won three of the last five NHRA Top Fuel season championships. Langdon won in 2013, Del Worsham in 2011 and Larry Dixon in 2010.

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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.”