(Photos courtesy Kalitta Racing)

Milestone man: Fresh off new NHRA ET record, Del Worsham to make 500th career start

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Milestones just seem to keep coming Del Worsham’s way.

At the most recent NHRA national event in Seattle nearly two weeks ago, the defending Funny Car champion broke the national elapsed time record in his class, covering the 1,000-foot drag strip in a blistering 3.832 seconds.

“Setting the national record was really cool,” Worsham told NBCSports.com. “It is exciting for Kalitta Motorsports and the entire DHL Toyota team to have the success that we are having.”

But Worsham isn’t resting on the laurels of his new record – he wants to reset it yet again.

“There is more and the record will be reset soon by someone, hopefully us,” he said.

Now, Worsham is set for his next major milestone. When he lines up for the first round of eliminations Sunday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Raceway in Brainerd, Minnesota, Worsham will make the 500th start of his drag racing career (combined between Funny Car and Top Fuel).

NHRA Drag Racing

“It’s feels good,” Worsham said. “When I started, it never entered my mind or was a thought that I could be able to hit 500 career starts.”

When Worsham won the Funny Car championship last season, he moved into very exclusive company, becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Funny Car and Top Fuel championship (Worsham won the latter in 2011).

The only other two drivers to achieve that rare feat are now-retired drag racing heavyweights: Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi.

Worsham has done and seen a lot in his lengthy drag racing career. Since earning NHRA Rookie of the Year honors in 1991, he’s amassed an impressive resume:

* 38 wins (30 in Funny Car, which ranks him in the top-10 all-time; he also has eight Top Fuel wins)

* Has reached 63 final rounds (52 in Funny Car, 11 in Top Fuel)

* Final round winning percentage: 60.3 percent overall, 57.7 percent in Funny Car

* Has qualified No. 1 20 times (13 Funny Car, 7 Top Fuel)

* 545 round wins (13th all-time)

* Still holds the record as the youngest driver to win a Funny Car race (21 years, 2 months – 1991 Atlanta)

Now, Worsham is ready to chase yet another milestone: his second straight Funny Car title and third championship overall. It all starts with the six-race Countdown to the Championship after the upcoming U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Speaking of which, Worsham is looking to repeat, if not surpass, yet another milestone he set in last year’s Countdown: winning four of the playoffs’ six races to win the championship.

“Being two races out from the Countdown, I feel like our team is starting to get a pretty good handle on the current setup,” Worsham said. “I feel like we have a shot at the title.

“There is also a lot of racing to be done and we learned last year: getting hot in September, October and November is where the Mello Yello Championship is won.”

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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.”