(Photo courtesy NBC)

IndyCar drivers come up a bit short in bid to become an American Ninja Warrior

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Helio Castroneves was light enough on his feet to win Dancing With The Stars in 2007.

Nearly a decade later, and as a contestant on American Ninja Warrior – which aired Monday night on NBC – Castroneves didn’t reach the finish line, but he certainly gave it a good try.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was joined on a special edition of ANW by fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The episode was taped in Indianapolis for the first time ever in the last week of April. The 41-year-old Castroneves reached the third stage of the challenging obstacle course before being eliminated.

“Wow, let me tell you, I had a great time,” Castroneves said. “I wish I had done it again – or maybe not. It was a lot of fun and very, very difficult. I was so worried about the first and second obstacles that I didn’t (think so much) about the third.

“I couldn’t go more than the third stage, but let me tell you, I had a blast.”

 

Newgarden also reached the third stage before seeing his evening end short.

“Just getting to do something like this was incredible,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those once in a lifetime deals. Personally, I’d like to come back. I didn’t feel like I did good enough. I tried really hard, I was happy to get to where Helio got but I just lost my momentum and really didn’t know what to when I got up there.”

Newgarden, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, was in fine form when the episode was taped. But he also illustrated that race car drivers truly are athletes.

“I hope we showed some of our athleticism,” Newgarden said. “This is obviously a very different sport. The discussion is always athleticism and fitness in racing, is that a thing? For us, it very much is.

“It’s a big fitness sport and you really have to be very prepared mentally and physically to drive an Indy car, but that doesn’t mean we can be football wide receivers. Just because we’re trained well and can drive Indy cars great doesn’t mean we’re Ninja’s. I thought we did alright in representing and showing we had some athleticism.

“This was such a cool opportunity. When do you get a chance to do American Ninja Warriors and complete the course? Personally, I want to come back and really want to try it again with a little more training specific to these type of obstacles.”

Kanaan and Stenhouse both made it to the second stage.

“It’s one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever had,” Kanaan said. “It was the unknown, something that I’m not used to. I was definitely more nervous than any of the Indy 500 starts I’ve ever done. It was a great experience.

“Obviously, we’re privileged because of what we do, we get to do some cool things like this. But I definitely found out I’m not a Ninja today. It’s going to be hard to tell my kid that.”

Click on the following links for more highlights from Monday’s episode:

American Ninja Warrior

Helio Castroneves qualifying

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualifying

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NBCSN will present ‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ Monday

NBCSN
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With motor racing reckoning with its own issues of diversity and equality, “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” will tackle the topics of social justice with several athletes. The show will air at 8 p.m. ET Monday, July 13 on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic channel and on regional sports networks.

The roundtable discussions will be hosted by Damon Hack and feature Charles Barkley, Steph Curry, Jimmy Rollins and Ozzie Smith in one segment. The other segment will include Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins and James Blake.

Race has been a major topic in motorsports this year.

NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its race after lobbying by Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the premier Cup Series. In Formula One, six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton has joined Black Lives Matter marches in London and also formed a panel on diversity. The lone Black driver in F1 also led 14 of 20 drivers taking a knee before the season opener in Austria.