March 19, 2014

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

Motorsports Insider: Indy 500 champ has done it all in IndyCar — almost.

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.

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