NHRA: Pro Stock driver Erica Enders hitting on all cylinders heading into U.S. Nationals

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Just in time for the biggest yearly race in drag racing, the 61st annual NHRA U.S. Nationals next weekend (Sept. 2-7), Erica Enders is back where she wants to be: leading the NHRA Pro Stock point standings.

The defending Pro Stock champ, the first woman to ever capture that category’s top title, Enders will have double incentive to do well at the U.S. Nationals, in Brownsburg, Indiana.

First, she wants to win the race and head in to the subsequent Countdown to the Championship with a ton of momentum.

But there’s added incentive and a great honor to go with it:

“Chevrolet has asked me to be the grand marshal for the U.S. Nationals, which is going to be a huge honor for me,” Enders said in an NHRA media release. “We’ll do our best as a team to have an awesome weekend there.”

In addition, NHRA is adding incentive to pro drivers in next week’s marquee event by increasing the available points to be earned with a 50 percent bonus.

“It’s the first time it’s going to be worth a point and a half, so every round is going to be crucial,” Enders said.

Enders won last weekend’s race at Brainerd, Minn., her fifth triumph of the season, putting her back atop the Pro Stock standings.

“I had a really good feeling coming in (to Brainerd), even before the weekend started,” said Enders, who had struggled in the previous five races, winning just six total rounds since winning at Bristol. “I felt like it was our turn and the tables were about to turn.

The Brainerd triumph was Enders’ 17th career victory, putting her one win away from tying three-time Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney for No. 2 on the NHRA all-time win’s list by a female driver.

“I think we’re working our way back to having our awesome race car, and this is definitely a great step in the right direction, at the right point of the season,” Enders said. “We’re going to do our best to continue this momentum in Indy. It’s definitely going to be a dogfight in Indy.”

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

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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.”