(Photo courtesy NHRA)

NHRA U.S. Nationals: Funny Car driver Jack Beckman perfect in biggest career weekend

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana – “Fast Jack” Beckman just keeps getting faster.

Oh, and better, too.

Beckman had the best weekend ever of his long drag racing career. Not only did Beckman win $100,000 for capturing Sunday’s Traxxas Funny Car Shootout, he doubled-up with a win from the No. 1 qualifying spot in the Monday’s final round of the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

In addition, Beckman begins the six-race Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed in Funny Car.

“Yeah, other than that, it wasn’t a very good weekend,” Beckman laughed.

MORE — NHRA: Final results, updated standings after U.S. Nationals

Beckman earned the U.S. Nationals title when he defeated Robert Hight for only the second time in nine career final round meetings between the pair – and the first time Beckman has beaten Hight since Phoenix seven years ago.

In addition, Beckman is now 15-0 in round wins vs. all three John Force Racing Funny Car drivers (High, and John and Courtney Force) in 2015.

It’s also Beckman’s series-leading sixth win of the season (in 18 races) as he bids for his second NHRA Funny Car championship (he also won in 2012).

The key to Monday’s win for Beckman – who races for Don Schumacher Racing – was to stay consistent through all four elimination rounds, particularly his final round battle with Hight.

“You have to treat it as if (the possibility winning such a prestigious race) it doesn’t matter any more than any other round,” Beckman said, growing more serious. “

Beckman is 6-1 in final rounds this season and Monday’s triumph is the 21st of the California native’s Funny Car career.

That’s a big contrast to Beckman’s winless season in 2014.

“I had it in the back of my head, ‘Are you ever going to be able to win again,’” Beckman said. “You could have the best car on race day – and one hiccup and your day’s over, it’s done.

“Sometimes, just getting there is the battle and you have to capitalize on it in the final round. You just have to keep showing up, have a good attitude, smile when you feel like crying and get your head straight when you get in that car and the engine fires up.

“And then, wow, look what happened.”

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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.”