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NASCAR’s Busch, Allmendinger split on Indy 500 return

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The two most recent drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to have crossed over to the Indianapolis 500 are at odds over whether they’ll race it again.

Kurt Busch hasn’t said no to a 2016 Indy 500 appearance, while AJ Allmendinger definitively has on Tuesday during NASCAR’s Daytona 500 Media Day.

Busch, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, finished sixth in the first leg of what was supposed to be an 1,100-mile double between Indianapolis and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.

He said he’ll know more by March, once NASCAR heads West to Phoenix, Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway, whether he’ll be making an encore appearance.

“We’re at Daytona and we’re all focused on Daytona,” Busch told reporters during Daytona 500 Media Day in Daytona.

“I think once we get through Atlanta and that ‘NASCAR Goes West’ tour, that will give a better indication on if I’m going to run Indy this year.”

Busch ran the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport in 2014.

Andretti traditionally adds at least one car to its Indianapolis 500 roster and Busch was the fifth car for the team that year, along with Andretti’s then-full season quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

It was a rare occasion where although Busch drives a Chevrolet in Sprint Cup for Stewart-Haas Racing, he drove a Honda for Andretti at the Indianapolis 500.

Allmendinger returned to open-wheel in 2013 with Team Penske after a seven-year hiatus, and led laps and finished seventh in the Indianapolis 500.

But he said Tuesday he is categorically against any return to open-wheel until the cars adopt some sort of closed cockpit protection, canopy or otherwise.

Asked whether he’d want to race to race the ‘500 again, Allmendinger told assembled reporters, “No. The moment Justin Wilson passed away is the moment I said, never again.

“The only way I’d do it is if they put a closed cockpit over the car, and tested it, and thought that was a good direction for safety. But, no.”

Further comments from Allmendinger are linked here, via Motorsport.com.

Wilson, 37, was killed last August at Pocono Raceway during IndyCar’s most recent 500-mile race. He was IndyCar’s first fatality since Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas in October, 2011.

 

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.”