Five IndyCar things to watch for at Long Beach

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The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach marks the fourth race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar. So far, three different drivers have found Victory Lane, including rookie Colton Herta after his incredible run at Austin, and Barber winner Takuma Sato, who finished 12th in points last year.

Watch Sunday’s race at 4:30 pm ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app

There is a strong likelihood that Sunday will crown a fourth new winner. With his two runner-up finishes so far this season (St Petersburg and Barber), Scott Dixon has a great opportunity to narrow Josef Newgarden’s lead. Dixon won this race in 2015 and could become only the third driver to win two Long Beach Grand Prixs since IndyCar took over the sanction.

  1. Since 2008, when the IndyCar Series began sanctioning this race, no one has ever been able to back up one Long Beach win with another. (Sebastien Bourdais scored three consecutive from 2005 through 2007 when the race was sanctioned by the Champ Car World Series.) Alexander Rossi has the potential to double down after a strong start to the season that includes two top-fives and a sweep of the top 10.
  2. Until last year, the pole was not the place to start at Long Beach; Rossi was the first driver to ever win from the pole. And while pole sitters scored four podium finishes in the 10 races previous, they also finished 15th or worse three times (Ryan Hunter-Reay – 20th in 2014, Dario Franchitti – 15th in 2012, and Justin Wilson – 19th in 2008).
  3. Josef Newgarden is the only driver so far this season to sweep the top five with his St. Petersburg victory, second-place finish at Circuit of the Americas and fourth at Barber. Keeping that mark will be a challenge because he has only one top-five at Long Beach (third in 2017) and has trended downward in three starts.
  4. The pole may not be the place to start at Long Beach, but a driver needs to at least have a glimpse of clean air. Nine of 11 races have been won from the first two rows. Qualification is critical.
  5. Are the 2019 rookies finally running out of steam? At St. Petersburg, three freshmen finished in the top 10 (Felix Rosenqvist in fourth, Colton Herta in eighth and Santino Ferruci ninth). Circuit of the Americas had two in the top 10 (Herta’s victory and Patricio O’Ward’s eighth). Last week, Marcus Ericsson’s seventh was the only rookie top 10.

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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.”