Castroneves didn’t realize his climb in drive from 24th to second in Milwaukee

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Helio Castroneves nearly pulled off a last-to-first drive at the Milwaukee Mile on Sunday to pull off his third podium finish in the last four Verizon IndyCar Series races.

Ending second after starting 24th and last came as a bit of a surprise though, to say the least. He started from the rear after his team missed his spot in the qualifying line.

Castroneves made some headway in the opening stint, up to 17th by his first pit stop on Lap 48. His Team Penske crew gained him five spots after the sequence and he was quickly up to 12th behind teammate Will Power.

Still, Castroneves in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was stuck in the mid-teens for the middle stint of the race, and didn’t even crack the top 10 for the first time until Lap 191 of the 250-lap race. He was 10th, a lap down, in the midst of a pit cycle.

Castroneves vaulted to the top of the lapped cars as Sebastien Bourdais put the field a lap down and once the Frenchman pitted, and everyone got back on the same lap, Castroneves found himself in good position. He pitted for new tires late and got up to second, equaling his best finish at the track (1998, 2013).

Castroneves recapped the roller coaster afternoon.

“It was very frustrating unfortunately. It was a miscue on that situation,” he said of qualifying. “We were 10 minutes late on showing up to the line for the field.

“Certainly I think the weekend at Fontana somebody else had the same issue. Those are the rules that are really reinforced. Very disappointed because we know how tough it is over here to pass.

“But the point is, we never give up,” he added. “Honestly many times I didn’t know the position I was. They didn’t tell me. I was trying to drive as hard as I can. We knew we had plenty of tires because of not qualifying. It gave us an extra set. That could be an advantage for us. We knew putting new tires would be better.

“I didn’t know what position I was until lap 220. 218 was the yellow. I glanced in the pagoda, I saw my name up there. Oh, I am doing well!

“At one point in the race I was by myself. Actually, there was one car. I didn’t know where was everybody. I look in the mirror. Nobody front, nobody. What happened? I must be doing really bad or really good.

“When the yellow came, I thought, Now we got a chance to win because now we got good tires.

“The 11 [Bourdais] was just too quick.”

Castroneves’ thus far winless but consistent season – he has five podium finishes this year, tied for the most with Graham Rahal – has him tied for third in the points heading to Iowa next weekend. Coincidentally, he’s tied with Rahal on points, as well.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).