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Penske back to three full-time IndyCars after Castroneves shift

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Confirmation of Helio Castroneves’ move to Team Penske’s Acura ARX-05 sports car program, announced Wednesday, means the team will not replace him in its IndyCar lineup.

The three-car lineup will feature three of the series’ four most recent champions in Josef Newgarden (2017), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Will Power (2014, with Castroneves joining in a fourth car for the month of May at both the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Juan Pablo Montoya, who was added in a fifth car for those two races this year, will not be back with Penske’s IndyCar program next year while he has a full-time role in the other Acura.

The last time Penske ran three cars only was in 2014, with Power, Castroneves and Montoya. Pagenaud was added as a brand new fourth car for 2015, and the team ran at that level for three years – Newgarden having replaced Montoya going into this year.

“To me, this gives Helio a longer future in his racing career,” Roger Penske said Wednesday in a teleconference. “He’s been with us as the longest tenured driver, and I think the fact that he gets to go back to the Indy 500 again in 2018 and also will run in the road race the weekend before gives him the chance to stay with one foot in INDYCAR, but also a chance to bring our Acura sports car team into championships hopefully as we go forward over the next however many years.

“A great opportunity for him, and along with this, many don’t know that Helio became a business partner of mine in a major automobile dealership in Pennsylvania, and I think as I look to him and help him build his future career, I think when you put these all together, he’s in the right place.

“We are only going to run four cars next year (in May), which would be the three regulars, then we’d add Helio as a fourth car. Last year, of course, with four drivers and the deal I made with Juan was to run him in 2017.”

Montoya will be free to race for another team at the Indianapolis 500 if he can secure another seat.

“If he wants to run for another team, that would be his decision,” Penske said. “There would be nothing that we would say not to.”

Because of this, it leaves Chevrolet with seven cars retained from the 2017 season – three at Penske and two apiece at Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises – with the capacity to add more. Honda has confirmed all five of its teams from 2017 will continue with the manufacturer into 2018.

What this inadvertently means is that Team Penske, which has won 16 Indianapolis 500 races – most all-time – will enter the 2018 season without any of its full-time drivers having one on his resume, and that’s something each of them will seek to correct. The last time this happened was in 2001, with Castroneves and Gil de Ferran not yet on the board before Castroneves won each of the next two ‘500s and de Ferran won his first and only in 2003.

Penske will also shift some of its IndyCar personnel to the Acura sports car program, many of whom are on site in Braselton, Ga. this weekend for Motul Petit Le Mans as the team makes its sports car return with an Oreca 07 Gibson.

“The good news is there’s quite a bit to be able to transition, the full team thatย โ€‘โ€‘ as we looked really across the whole Indy team, and we picked a group of individuals that would have been capable of running a fourth car, and they transitioned over,” Penske explained.

“Then we had some other people within our organization that we activated, had been on the sports car program before, and then we’ve reached out and we’ve added, over the last probably 60 or 90 days, people who had shown interest and put their hands up when they heard we were going into the sports car world, and I think we’ve added some very good people.

“Plus we had individuals that worked on Juan’s car at Indianapolis, so some engineering people, and to me that’s going to help us build, I think, a good organization.

“But I guess overall you’d probably have to say there are maybe 10 or 15 people that we’ll add before the season starts.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).