Kyle Larson Knoxville Nationals
Trent Gower/World of Outlaws

No Nationals this time, but Knoxville still remains special for Kyle Larson

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A different name but the same motivation for Kyle Larson, who is heading to Knoxville Raceway treating this weekend just as he would the prestigious Knoxville Nationals.

Because the annual event was canceled for COVID-19 concerns, it’s been rebranded as “The One and Only” for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, which will race for its richest purse of the season.

“If I won it, I would probably still consider myself a Nationals winner,” Larson said in a World of Outlaws release this week. “The format is a little different, but it’s still tough, if not tougher than the regular Nationals format. You’re racing against extremely competitive cars every single night instead of splitting the field in half. In ways, it could be tougher and mean more.”

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Larson certainly will enter the three-day competition as among the favorites to win a $50,000 first-place prize Saturday night at the vaunted short track in Iowa.

The event will include $10,000 feature races Thursday and Friday that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic.

Larson is a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, and he already has three victories at Knoxville this season, including a sweep of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car doubleheader June 12-13.

It’s been a sharp turnaround from last season when he failed to qualify while trying to win his first Knoxville Nationals main event, but it’s been on par for a summer tear in which Larson has been largely untouchable in dirt racing.

After wrecking his special No. 57 in South Dakota (and ending a record seven-race winning streak in the All Star Circuit of Champions), Paul Silva’s team built a new car that Larson took to a victory at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Larson said about a season with more than 30 victories in sprint cars and midgets. “I think maybe if I ever start struggling really bad, I can look back to how successful we’ve been.Kind of the hot streak we’ve been on for the past few months now.

“But I just take it week to week. Really race by race because we’ve been running so much. It’s been good. Just fun to be in contention every night.”

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

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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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.”