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Castroneves ready to make late surge for elusive first IndyCar championship

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Helio Castroneves has been down this road so many times.

In fact, 16 years and 244 races since his first year in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2001, as well as four years and 70 races in the now defunct Champ Car World Series.

And yet, no matter how hard he has tried, the popular Brazilian driver has failed to fulfill his lifelong dream of winning an IndyCar championship.

Sure, he’s won the Indianapolis 500 three times in 16 starts. But he has no season championship trophies to go along with those 500 trophies on his mantle.

Oh, he’s come close – several times, in fact: four runner-up finishes and three third-place season showings, including last season.

Now, with four races remaining this season, Castroneves is once again facing a familiar scenario: a chance at finally taking that championship in the stretch run – but it won’t be easy.

With four races left in the season, including Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Castroneves is only looking forward, not backward.

Forward as in trying to catch Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud, who leads the series with 484 points. Fellow teammate Will Power is second (426 points), while Castroneves is still in the mix in third place, albeit at a 111-point deficit to Pagenaud.

It hasn’t helped Castroneves’ cause that in the last five races, while he’s earned a runner-up at Toronto and a fifth-place finish at Road America, he’s also finished 14th at Belle Isle 2, 13th at Iowa and a season-worst 15th in the most recent race, at Mid-Ohio.

As for his record at Pocono, in his first two starts on the 2.5-mile tri-oval in 2013 and 2014, Castroneves finished eighth and second, respectively.

But it was a different story in 2015. He started from the pole and was in good position to potentially take the win until he was involved in a crash with 34 laps remaining.

As a result, Castroneves finished 16th in that race, a finish he intends on bouncing back from in Sunday’s race.

“The Hitachi Chevy team really needs a good result at Pocono,” Castroneves said. “Other than last year, we’ve had good finishes there.

“The car has always been strong and I don’t expect anything different this year. It’s important that we keep pace with the guys in front of us and pick up some ground if we can.

“The season is in the homestretch. I really enjoy the racing at Pocono and happy to hear that we’ll be going back next season (and 2018). It’s a very competitive track that produces great racing.”

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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.”