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

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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.

Cooper Webb beats Ken Roczen in Arlington Supercross photo finish

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Cooper Webb scored his fourth win of the season in a photo finish over Ken Roczen in Round 7 of Supercross competition.

It was a remarkable end to a barn burner race.

Roczen was still looking for his first win since San Diego in 2017. He took the lead from Eli Tomac on Lap 4 as the pair came out of the whoops. Roczen held the lead for the next 21 circuits. On Lap 4, Webb was mired in sixth – the worst position among the top four contenders that entered the event with only two points separating them.

Webb mounted his charge at that point, meticulously picking off the competition until he was embroiled in a heated battle with Marvin Musquin. Webb knew that his only shot at catching Roczen was to get past Musquin as quickly as possible, but he could not run the risk of taking his teammate down. Webb passed Musquin on Lap 19 and began picking at Roczen’s lead.

With time off the clock and the final lap underway. Webb was on Roczen’s back tire hoping to force a mistake. When that did not come, Webb dove into the final turn to get side-by-side with Roczen and break the leader’s momentum. The two crossed under the checkers in a virtual tie. Webb beat Roczen by two-hundredths of a second – the closest margin in Supercross history.

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“That was just insanity,” Webb told NBCSN after the race. “It was clicking I guess.”

Webb’s win gave him the points lead and the red plate.

Musquin rounded out the top three to keep the points battle tight. This is Musquin’s fifth consecutive finish of either second or third.

On Lap 1, the race had a completely different storyline. Tomac took the early lead ahead of Roczen and Musquin. Webb was seventh and it appeared he would be the first of the top four to blink.

Instead, it was Tomac that bobbled. He went down on Lap 6 and kept falling until he landed 12th. This was the first time he’s failed to finish among the top 10. The disappointing finish dropped him 16 points off the pace, fourth in the standings.

Blake Baggett and Joey Savatgy rounded out the top five.

Zach Osborne’s return to Supercross was not what he expected. Osborne was running eighth when he got crossed up and went over the tough blocks on Lap 8. He could not return to the race and finished 22nd after a dramatic showing in his heat.

Complete Results
Points Standings

250s

Round 2 of 250s East started where Round 1 ended – with Austin Forkner in the lead. This was the first time in more than a decade that a rider had perfect nights in the first two rounds. Forkner had to overcome mistakes in timed practice after going off track once and nearly landing on another rider on a separate occasion. That contact might have ended his night before it began.

Instead, Forkner posted a lap of 50.899 – his fastest of the night – on the second trip around the track in the Feature. As he got into traffic, the lap times slipped into the 52-second range.

Helping Forkner to his dominant win was the fact that no one seemed to want second place.

Chase Sexton was Forkner’s closest competition for the first half of the race. He stalled and lost second to Jordon Smith at the midway point. On Lap 15, he went down and fell to fourth. Now 13 seconds behind the leader, his chance of winning was done. Sexton recovered to finish third and land on the final step on the podium

On Lap 18, Jordon Smith laid his bike down while running second; he ultimately crossed under the checkers fourth.

Their mistakes allowed Justin Cooper to climb into the runner-up position and secure the second position in the points standings.

Martin Davalos rounded out the top five.

Complete Results
Points Standings

450 Heat 1: Ken Roczen led every lap on his way to a 4.8-second win over Justin Hill. … Joey Savatgy rounded out the top three. … Zach Osborne got off to a tough start on his return to Supercross. He went down on Lap 1 after burying the front wheel. Osborne almost saved his bike, but got run over from behind by Aaron Plessinger. Osborne fell to 18th on the first lap; improved to 15th by Lap 2. He kept rolling, picking off one spot per lap. Osborne grabbed the final transfer spot from Kyle Chisholm just as time ran off the clock.

450 Heat 2: Cole Seely took the lead from Chad Reed on Lap 1 and held it to the checkers. After Roczen took the Heat 2 win, the battle for the championship was previewed in Heat 2, however; Eli Tomac caught up to Seely’s back wheel, but came up about a half second short. … Cooper Webb showed he is not going to be overshadowed in the playoff battle with a third-place finish. … Marvin Musquin finished seventh.

450 Last Chance Qualifier: Justin Barcia flat out dominated the LCQ with a 12.5-second win over Alex Ray. … Kyle Chisholm finished third. Ronnie Stewart lost the final transfer spot to Scott Champion on the last lap – but not for long. Champion went down as he was headed for the checkers and gave the position back to Stewart. … Tyler Bowers was disqualified before the beginning of the LCQ for running into Barcia during their heat race.

250 Heat 1: Mitchell Oldenburg blazed into the lead with the holeshot and grabbed a 1.4 second lead by the end of Lap 1. It was Oldenburg’s first heat win of the season. … He held that advantage through the end of the heat and beat Justin Cooper and Alex Martin. … With time running off the clock, Lorenzo Locurcio took the final transfer spot of ninth.

250 Heat 2: Austin Forkner and Jordon Smith went side by side on Lap 5 with Forkner blasting past on the whoops to win the heat. … Smith held on for second with Martin Davalos rounding out the top three. … Kyle Peters almost provided the drama of the night exiting Turn 1. He got wiggly in a big pack and bunched up the riders from seventh on back. Peters recovered to finish fifth. … The final transfer spot came down to a three-man battle between Brandon Hartranft (eighth), Joshua Cartwright (ninth) and Steven Clarke just missing in 10th. … Joey Crown joined Clarke in the LCQ after finishing 11th.

250 Last Chance Qualifier: Kyle Cunningham was seventh at the end of Lap 1, but he picked up two positions per lap until he was third on Lap 3. He took the lead on Lap 5 and held it till the end over Ramyller Alves and Steven Clarke. … TJ Albright grabbed the holeshot, but lost the lead to Clarke on Lap 3. He fell back to fourth and was under heavy pressure from Jayce Pennington until the two riders made contact with on the final lap. Albright survived to finish fourth; Pennington finished a distant 16th.

Points Leaders

450s
Cooper Webb (150) (4 wins)
Ken Roczen (148)
Marvin Musquin (144)
Eli Tomac (134) (1 win)
Dean Wilson (110)

250s West
Adam Cianciarulo (114 points) (3 wins)
Shane McElrath (106) (1)
Colt Nichols (104) (1)
Dylan Ferrandis (102)
RJ Hampshire (75)

250s East
Austin Forkner (52 points) (2 wins)
Justin Cooper (44)
Jordon Smith (42)
Chase Sexton (39)
Alex Martin (34)
Mitchell Oldenburg (34)

Top 5s

450 top 5s
Ken Roczen: 7
Marvin Musquin: 6
Eli Tomac: 5
Cooper Webb: 5
Blake Baggett: 3
Dean Wilson: 2
Joey Savatgy: 2
Jason Anderson: 1
Justin Barcia: 1
Justin Bogle: 1
Chad Reed: 1
Justin Brayton: 1

250 West top 5s
Adam Cianciarulo: 5
Shane McElrath: 5
Colt Nichols: 4
RJ Hampshire: 3
Dylan Ferrandis: 3
James Decotis: 2
Jacob Hayes: 1
Garrett Marchbanks: 1
Jess Pettis: 1

250 East top 5s
Austin Forkner: 2
Jordon Smith: 2
Justin Cooper: 2
Chase Sexton: 2
Alex Martin: 1
Martin Davalos: 1

Next race: February 23, Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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