It’s hard to keep Helio Castroneves down, no matter how the years end

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Series updates

Sprint Cup

New leader: Brad Keselowski took over the points lead last week at Bristol, by 10 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who for the first time this year, failed to finish in the top two.

Gordon’s start: Jeff Gordon has finished in the top 10 in all four races so far, the only driver to do so.

Bright spot: Tony Stewart hasn’t had much to hang his hat on this year, but he went from starting 37th to finishing fourth last week at Bristol — an encouraging sign for his set-up.

Nationwide

JGR weekend: Joe Gibbs Racing has won the past nine races at Auto Club Speedway. Entered this week for JGR are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler.

Rookie surge: Each of the four races this year has featured two or more rookies in the top 10. Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott have been top-10 three times each, and Dylan Kwasniewski and Chris Buescher have been top-10 once each.

Camping World Truck

Off testing: The series is off until next week at Martinsville, but the drivers are in town a week early for testing.

IndyCar

Penske test: Team Penske’s Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves had the top three speeds in a test at Barber Motorsports Park this week. The test included 22 drivers who will run in the season opener on March 30 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

45 Places improved in four races this year by last week’s Sprint Cup winner, Carl Edwards (13 at Daytona, 15 at Phoenix, six at Las Vegas, 11 at Bristol). He has an average start of 19th and an average finish of 7.8.

They said it

“If you had told me this morning that John and I would be in the final, I don’t know if I’d have taken that bet.” — Robert Hight, who beat his boss, John Force, in NHRA Funny Car last week at Gainesville, Fla.

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Another season is about to start for Helio Castroneves.

Another chance for disappointment.

The 38-year-old Brazilian has won three Indianapolis 500 championships, racked up 38 open-wheel victories and even written his name in American pop culture, winning a Dancing with the Stars crystal ball.

But he has zero IndyCar Series championships.

He has been close. Three times he has been the runner-up. Last year, he was tantalizingly close — 27 points in perhaps his finest overall season in IndyCar.

But it wasn’t a championship, and he didn’t hide the pain.

But he is back, smiling and bouncy as ever. The season starts next week in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the last thing he is thinking about is the potential for another disappointment at the end.

“When you do something that you love, you do have disappointment. But you also have precious moments,” he said Wednesday at an appearance at Texas Motor Speedway, which was unveiling its new big screen, and where he won the Firestone 550 last year. “Those precious moments, you treasure more than the bad moments.”

Don’t feel bad for him.

Castroneves is part of the most powerful racing organization in IndyCar, Team Penske. Its drivers posted the top three speeds at testing at Barber Motorsports Park this week. The team added former Indy 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya to its stable this year, joining Castroneves and two-time series runner-up Will Power.

Castroneves is a winner, surrounded by winners and a winning culture.

“I’ve been with Team Penske for many, many years,” he said. “When you have a great team and that kind of marriage working very well, you push yourself to the limit. I really want to win as bad as anybody.”

Last year’s disappointment? Already gone. But not forgotten.

“I don’t see that as a problem. We’ve been competitive,” Castroneves said. “We’ve been pushing ourselves. … I’m really hungry for this year. All three cars we have on the team, we want to get the championship, no matter what it takes, for Roger Penske.”

Surprisingly, Castroneves admits he could live without a series title. He’ll take a record-tying fourth Indy 500 victory first, if you give him a choice.

“If you were to ask me, would I trade any Indy 500 for a championship, I would say absolutely not,” he said.

Another Indy 500 victory. A series championship. Castroneves could vault into the place occupied by Dario Franchitti, the series’ most successful driver, now retired because of injury.

The stakes are there for Castroneves. Another chance begins next week. Another chance for glory.

And disappointment.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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