Robert Wickens, A.J. Foyt to attend St. Petersburg race

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The first IndyCar race of the season will see both A.J. Foyt and paralyzed driver Robert Wickens back at the track.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash last August and has been rehabilitating in Denver the last several months. The Canadian said he will be part of IndyCar’s driver autograph session and participate in a fan event Sunday before the race in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Coverage of the race begins Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app. A feature interview of Wickens and his recovery will air before the race.

Wickens made his IndyCar debut on the streets of St. Petersburg last year, starting from the pole and leading every lap until he was spun by Alexander Rossi with two laps remaining. He had four podium finishes and was sixth in the standings when he was injured with three races remaining.

Foyt, meanwhile, has not been to an IndyCar race since June. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner had back surgery in July and then a staph infection, the third for the 84-year-old Texan.

He attended last month’s Daytona 500 and acknowledged he has been slowed by poor health and a dislike for hearing aids, but his workload remains about the same. Foyt said through A.J. Foyt Racing on Wednesday that he had to have a bulldozer pulled from a pond and narrowly avoided yet another encounter with bees.

The bulldozer incident occurred, Foyt said, as he was digging and the “`dozer just slipped down.”

“It was real muddy and I tried to go faster to get up and out but the machine just slipped further down,” he said. “So I stopped before the whole thing went under. I had to have two guys help pull me out because I was in quicksand, I couldn’t climb out myself, and I lost a shoe.”

Foyt has twice been attacked by bees – a 2005 attack that left 200 stingers in his head, and another attack last year that his team characterized as more severe “and more dangerous because he had been sensitized to bee stings from his first encounter.”

A few weeks ago, Foyt said, he was planning to move a tree on his Texas ranch with a bulldozer when a friend offered to do it instead and wound up being attacked by bees.

“I was in another tractor with a closed cab and saw them chasing him and he was slapping at them and going backward to get away,” Foyt said. “And I thought, `Man, I’m glad I’m not in that one.’ He got stung pretty good, his face was swollen and he got a black eye. He was lucky they were honey bees, not killer bees, because he could get away from them. I felt sorry for him.”

Foyt said at Daytona in February that he’s ceded daily operations of A.J. Foyt Racing to his son, Larry, and only gets involved with the team when they ask him for money. The team fields cars for Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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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.”