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Take a ride around Sonoma Raceway with defending IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden

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Josef Newgarden has just one item on his agenda for Sunday’s season-ending and championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

“We have to win the race to have any hope of winning the championship again,” the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk. “Win, that’s all, that’s everything on Sunday.”

While Newgarden said his normal race strategy will remain the same, the biggest key is to be aggressive, proactive and take chances if the opportunity exists without bringing his day — and championship hopes — to a premature ending.

He also has to hope Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi (29 points behind Dixon and 58 points ahead of Newgarden and teammate Will Power) have early troubles or poor overall finishes.

The other key, Newgarden said, will be tire degradation, one of his biggest concerns.

“The tire degradation is going to be big,” he noted. “With this year’s new aero package, we’re about 20 to 25 percent down on downforce, which means the tires are going to go away a lot quicker.

“When we did our test here last week, we really saw how bad the tire degradation was. That is going to figure into our strategy, like whether to make it a four- or three-stop (pit stops) race.”

Here’s a video of Newgarden taking a couple of hot laps around the twisting 12-turn, 2.52-mile permanent road course to give you a feel for the challenges he and more than two dozen other drivers will face in Sunday’s race.

Visor Cam: Josef Newgarden takes on Sonoma

It's championship week. Take in Sonoma Raceway with the reigning champ, Josef Newgarden.

Posted by NTT IndyCar Series on Monday, September 10, 2018

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.”