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Pagenaud’s back “almost 100 percent” ahead of Pocono

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Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud said missing the most recent round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was never in doubt owing to a back problem that arose going into the weekend, and that heading into Pocono Raceway this weekend, he should be 100 percent.

What followed at Mid-Ohio was a virtuoso performance – Pagenaud won the pole and the race, with his fourth win of the season coming after an incredible pass of Will Power for second (net lead) on Lap 66 through Turns 12 and 13 at the track that’s notoriously tough to pass on.

“It’s good. I’m almost 100 percent. I would be 100 percent on the race weekend,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports.

“There’s a lot of muscle spasms. But it takes a lot of time at this level [to recover]. I had it at Mid-Ohio… and contracted it more by doing the race.”

Pagenaud’s grit and determination helped to push him through Mid-Ohio.

“There was obviously a lot of pain, but there was no doubt in my mind I’d be racing. I didn’t get to this point to give up now,” he admitted.

“I wasn’t going to hedge the issue. But the paramedics did a tremendous job helping me through. It wasn’t the most comfortable weekend! But it gave me extra motivation… it showed what I’m made of and my dedication.”

And then there was that pass. It might not be Alex Zanardi on Bryan Herta at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 1996-level, but it ranks up there in terms of improbability.

“It was awesome, right?” Pagenaud reflected.

“I think that was a very important move at this point in the championship. Like Will said, I was pretty determined. And it’s like he did at [race two of] Detroit.

“When you’re in that position you have to take it. I had to show some authority. But Will played it really well. I thought it was great racing and it was a great, clean battle.”

Pagenaud heads to Pocono this weekend in his No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, with a 58-point lead over his Team Penske teammate, as he continues his pursuit of his first series championship.

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.”