Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Podcast: Helio Castroneves on the advice that kept him at Team Penske

Leave a comment

When his racing career reached a crossroads with Team Penske two years ago, Helio Castroneves solicited advice from someone who had stood at the same juncture.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner asked a four-time winner of the Indy 500 who also has spent nearly his entire racing life with car owner Roger Penske.

Castroneves, who had options to drive for other race teams, said it was a “pivotal point” in deciding to remain with Penske but move into the IMSA sports car series last year after a 20-season career in IndyCar.

“I sat down with Rick Mears and asked him, ‘What would you do?’ ” Castroneves said on the latest edition of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “He said, ‘It’s difficult for me because I’ve made my decision. But I can see you still have the fire in the guts and still want to do it.’

“He mentioned something I’ll share with everyone today. ‘He said RP is an incredible human being. At the end of day, stick with him. I guarantee it’ll be the best for you.’ ”

ROLEX 24 COVERAGE: Full announcer lineup, NBCSN/NBC Sports App schedule

The 30-time winner in IndyCar, including the 2001, ’02 and ’09 Indy 500s, said he had options to leave after driving full time for Penske from 2000-17. The talks with other teams came close to yielding official offers, which Castroneves had planned “to bring to Roger and say, ‘This is what we’ve got. You’re a businessperson. Guide me.’”

But his talk with Mears, who tied a record for Indy 500 wins while racing at Penske from 1978-92, helped assuage any doubts Castroneves had about departing Penske.

“I start playing a little movie in my head,” Castroneves said about hearing Mears’ suggestion. “In 2000-01 when we moved from CART to the IRL, I kept with Team Penske. When I had my case with the tax scenario in 2008, (Penske) stayed and backed up me up. So you start making any these scenarios. I’m like, ‘You know what, Rick is right.’ That’s what I should do.

“I’m extremely happy and hopefully I can accomplish another goal with him which is the Daytona 24.”

Teamed with Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International, Castroneves will be making his second Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona start after finishing ninth overall with Taylor and Graham Rahal last year (coverage of the race will begin Saturday on NBCSN at 2 p.m.).

Helio Castroneves tests his Acura at Daytona International Speedway. (Brian Cleary/LAT Images)

Castroneves will share the ride with Taylor, a veteran American of sports car racing, for the 2019 season in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The pair won last year at Mid-Oho Sports Car Course in Castroneves’ rookie season.

“Ricky Taylor is a phenomenal kid with more (sports car) experience than myself,” Castroneves said. “It’s fun. I missed this. I want to keep going as far as I can. It’s definitely a new challenge. New tracks. New cars. It’s starting all over again. It’s great. I’m just so blessed I’m still racing.”

Though he is adjusting to a new cockpit with a lower steering wheel, Castroneves has found the cars to be less demanding on his neck. That in part is why the effervescent Brazilian, who will turn 44 in May, believes he can follow the path of Scott Pruett and race into his 50s.

“I’m just starting, man,” Castroneves said on the podcast. “No question, I hope I can drive just like Pruett did. I see a lot of drivers way older than me who still are driving very well. That would be my goal.”

But he also is keeping a hand in IndyCar. For the second consecutive season, he will return in an Indianapolis 500 one-off with Penske and also might run the Indianapolis Grand Prix as a warmup.

“Oh I do still miss it,” Castroneves said of IndyCar. “Twenty years! It’s like that ex-girlfriend, I still need to tell her, ‘Honey, come on. Let’s do one more time.’

“It’s hard to give up 20 years and wipe it out from your memory. The good news is the transition has been phenomenal because now I’m still racing at a point in my career that I feel I can still be very competitive.

And this is able to calm those urges of, ‘I should do it.’

“Definitely IMSA has been able to fulfill that. And I’m glad! Because otherwise I’d be depressed, smoking, drinking and be miserable.”

In the podcast, Castroneves also discusses:

–His joy of racing against Alex Zanardi again in this year’s Rolex 24;

–His thoughts on the renaissance IndyCar is experiencing;

–How he witnessed the evolution of safety in racing. Castroneves ran his first race in 1998 after a practice crash that he was “99% sure” caused a concussion.

“Back then I just remember my head hurt so bad, but I said I’ve got to be able to race my first race,” he said. “Even that evolution of the cars and safety of tracks, it’s still a very dangerous sport. I’m very fortunate to have big crashes and get out of there without serious injury. Those things you’ve got to feel blessed to do something you love and know the risk and still able to come back home and see your family.”

–Whether he still keeps up with Dancing With The Stars contestants 10 years after winning the event;

To listen to the podcast, you can click the embed above or by downloading the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

Mike Tirico to host 2019 Indy 500

NBC Sports
2 Comments

The 103rd running of the Indy 500 is 100 days away and when it airs at 11 a.m. ET on May 26, Mike Tirico will host NBC’s inaugural coverage of one of auto racing’s biggest events.

This year’s Indy 500 will mark the first time the race has ever aired on the network after 54 years on ABC and it will be the first time Tirico has worked the 500 in any capacity.

Watch the entire 2019 IndyCar season on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Tirico is no stranger to big events. He is the host for NBC’s primetime Olympic coverage, Football Night in America, horse racing’s Triple Crown and Breeder’s Cup, marquee PGA Tour events as well as being the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football.

Making him one of the most well-rounded broadcasters in sports, Tirico will also perform the play-by-play for his first NHL game on Feb. 20.

“There’s no better way to come on the air for the biggest spectator event in the world than with Mike Tirico, the best big-event host in sports television,” said Sam Flood, President, Production, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “Mike’s role will be to set the scene for the millions of viewers watching at home, not only touching on the drivers and the racing, but also on the enormous crowd and countless happenings around the speedway that make this a bucket-list event for all sports fans.”

The full press release is below

STAMFORD, Conn. – Feb. 15, 2019 – With 100 days until the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, NBC Sports announced today that Mike Tirico will serve as host of its first-ever coverage of the event. The 103rd Indy 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway will air at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 26, on NBC, the first time the race has ever aired on the network after 54 years on ABC.

Tirico is synonymous with the biggest events in sports. He is the host for NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage, as well as Football Night in America – the most-watched studio show in sports. He also hosts NBC Sports’ Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup coverage, marquee PGA TOUR events and The Open, and serves as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football and select NFL games. It was recently announced that Tirico will call play-by-play for his first-ever NHL game on Feb. 20, after hosting the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, 2019 NHL Winter Classic, and 2019 NHL All-Star Game.

During 25 years at ESPN, Tirico also hosted or called play-by-play for the FIFA World Cup, Monday Night Football, NBA Finals, The Masters, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and major college bowl games, among other big events.

This will be the first time Tirico has worked on the Indy 500 in any capacity.

“There’s no better way to come on the air for the biggest spectator event in the world than with Mike Tirico, the best big-event host in sports television,” said Sam Flood, President, Production, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “Mike’s role will be to set the scene for the millions of viewers watching at home, not only touching on the drivers and the racing, but also on the enormous crowd and countless happenings around the speedway that make this a bucket-list event for all sports fans.”

“I am thrilled to join our team as we cover one of America’s iconic sporting events,” said Tirico. “Having long enjoyed the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as a viewer, it will be fabulous to see it in person for the first time.”

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series begins on March 10 with the Streets of St. Petersburg at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app.

The 2019 INDYCAR season is the first under a new media rights agreement that was announced in March 2018 in which NBC Sports Group acquired the exclusive rights to all NTT IndyCar Series races – including the Indianapolis 500 for the first time – qualifying and practice sessions, and Indy Lights races across its numerous platforms. Click here for more information.