Kyle Busch gets Rolex 24 driving schedule as team hunts for speed

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Even a two-time NASCAR Cup champion can’t avoid driving in the dead of night in his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut.

Kyle Busch has received his marching orders for the endurance race classic, and he’ll be in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, 2-4 a.m. and 7-9 a.m. Sunday.

Busch playfully has been hinting that he was lobbying AIM Vasser Sullivan Racing to avoid the graveyard shift that challenges drivers to be on full alert at high speed.

“That’s going to suck, yeah,” he deadpanned about his 2-4 a.m. stint. “That’s exactly when I told them I did not want to run, and I got it.  Thank you very much.

“(I’m) the new guy.  I pulled the short straw.

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But “the new guy” did well in practice the past two days on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway, though time was limited by damage to the bottom of his team’s car because of some new curbing near the Bus Stop section. The No. 14 will start from the rear after missing qualifying because repairs necessitated an engine change.

“It was unfortunate to not get in earlier in the day, but then I got some good laps (Thursday) night and then got a couple more good laps (Friday) morning. I think I ran the quickest of our cars this morning. I don’t know what that means.  Yay, I guess. But we’re slow, so that’s a problem.”

The No. 14 Lexus RC-F GT3 that Kyle Busch will share with three other drivers during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Busch took some solace in that he wasn’t the only team driver struggling. Jack Hawksworth, the veteran who will start and finish the race in the No. 14, also complained about its handling.

“It made me feel a little bit better about it, but still I looked like a butt while out there,” said Busch, who also is sharing the car with Parker Chase and Michael De Quesada. “So then we got in it (Saturday) morning.  Jack got in, ran some laps, then I was able to get in and ran some laps, and I felt like I was back to Square One like I was here at the test.

“I felt like my lap times were decent.  I felt like the feel of the car was good.  So I was like, ‘OK, I’m better now.’ ”

During the Roar before the Rolex test three weeks ago, Busch was about 0.3 seconds off the pace of Hawksworth, who has served as his de-facto driving coach. When they went to the Toyota Racing Development driving simulator, Busch got within a tenth of Hawksworth.

But when the Joe Gibbs Racing driver got back behind the wheel again Thursday night at Daytona, he had to hang a U-turn after spinning in Turn 1 while running on tires near the end of their 29-lap run.

“I ran like 12 laps, and I was assholes and elbows,” he said. “It was ugly. Then Jack got in right after me, and he was like, ‘Oh, my God, mate, this car is terrible.’”

After being outside the top 10 in lap speeds for the first three sessions, the No. 14 was seventh in the final practice but trailing AIM Vasser Sullivan’s No. 12. The team’s other Lexus, which is driven by NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo, Shane van Gisbergen and Aaron Telitz, will start seventh in the GTD class.

“Since the test here and even today a little bit, the 12 has been a little bit better, faster than us,” Busch said. “We’ve gone down our own path. They kind of went down their own path. We’re trying to science it all out and figure it out and see what we need to do to make our car faster, and we’re kind of starting to mimic some of the stuff they were doing.”

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.

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“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.”