Castroneves, who won, was not even scheduled to compete in last Saturday’s kickoff to the six-race SRX sophomore season in Pensacola, Florida.
SRX CEO Don Hawk promised Castroneves a ride in the Daytona 500 if he won any of the three SRX races he was scheduled for this season.
Castroneves has had a rough go of it in IndyCar in 2022, with zero podiums and a top finish thus far of just seventh place (Indianapolis 500).
Any press conference featuring Helio Castroneves can be a wide-open affair, and Thursday’s Superstar Racing Experience media Zoom call was no exception.
The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner was in his usual fine and friendly form, still reveling in how he won this past Saturday’s SRX season opener, even though he originally wasn’t scheduled to compete.
The Brazilian native also talked about his hopes of potentially racing in next year’s Daytona 500 (and he may run a warm-up event before that to get used to stock cars), as well as the challenging season he’s had thus far in the NTT IndyCar Series.
First, the SRX Story
Castroneves was not scheduled to compete in last Saturday’s kickoff to the six-race SRX sophomore season in Pensacola, Florida. But due to a scheduling mix-up, Castroneves showed up ready to race, but SRX officials didn’t expect him to be there.
Because the series had four spare cars on hand, it was no problem to fit Castroneves in a car. And wouldn’t you guess, he wound up winning the event.
“How cool was that?” Castroneves said. “Oh, my goodness. Getting my first win in SRX was so cool. It was exciting, it was difficult, it was different, it was hot, oh boy. There was a lot going on and I’m super excited to be able to climb the fence at the Five Flags racetrack, which I never thought I’d do something like that. I'm glad I gave everyone an experience of that.
“Rubbing is racing like NASCAR, right? And so that’s exactly what happened. And having (and racing against in SRX) great colleagues and friends like Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott and obviously Tony Stewart. When you have those guys, you understand their world.
“That's why SRX is so incredible, because we're going to places that they raced their butts off so many years ago. It kind of brings a little bit more fairness, let's put this way and last year, I was able to understand a little bit more to use my bumper when I need to. But it certainly the idea of SRX united not only champions and legends and friends, but to compete and that's why I was able to do what I did.”
Added SRX CEO Don Hawk, “It shows you that the 16 cars we prepared are really what we say they are, they're equal cars. That car was not even going to be raced and it won. He started scratch on the field and he won. There's so many things that went in the right direction. We had four spare cars, any one of them you could just put your seat insert in and we’re good to go.”
Daytona 500 Calling
Hawk promised Castroneves a ride in the Daytona 500 if he won any of the three SRX races he was scheduled for this season (which became four in light of Pensacola). Hawk is now working on living up to his word to get Castroneves into the Great American Race.
“My side job is representing Mr. Castroneves,” Hawk said. “Phone calls have been taking place, the ball is rolling. We’re not ready to say a whole lot publicly. But the ball is rolling.
“I don’t know if he’s gotten any direct calls (only one Xfinity Series team has reached out directly to Castroneves thus far). I can say I have and I’ve made some direct calls also. It all depends on how this thing rolls out, whether we're going to look at more than one race or optional races. The intention originally was he really wanted to run in the Daytona 500, it was a crown jewel. And so we're really going to try to make the Daytona 500 work.”
Castroneves is keyed up to race in NASCAR.
“That will be fantastic,” he told Autoweek. “When Don and I were talking about how it would be so cool. I drove for so many years with Roger Penske and I was not able to get an opportunity there. Now, I have an opportunity in my contract, so why not, why not try something that I never did.
“So now I’m trying SRX, IMSA, IndyCar. It will be very natural to try something that I’ve always (wanted to do), which was NASCAR. So, it would be great, I know it will be tough, but hey, who knows, in racing you never expect how things could be surprising. I’ve never drove one. Hopefully I'm going to get into it with Don and be in the Daytona 500 for sure.”
IndyCar View 'Not Fun' Right Now
Autoweek also asked Castroneves to analyze his first eight IndyCar races of the 2022 season. He’s had a rough go of it, with zero podiums and a top finish thus far of just seventh place (Indy 500). He is currently 17th in the IndyCar standings. The series returns to action on July 3 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car course.
“It’s part of the process,” Castroneves said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not fun to be running back there (in the pack). I know the potential we have. We just have to keep it going. I know (team owner) Mike Shank is doing everything he can to help both myself and Simon (teammate Simon Pagenaud).
“Certainly, we’ve had some races that were not expected. I trust my guys, I trust everyone out there at MSR and I know we’re going to get a good result. We just have to trust the process.
“At this stage in my career, I have an open mind to learn and along the way I can do and try different things and I want to achieve the goals. Driving SRX last year, it really showed me that even when it's a race on dirt, I was like, ‘Well, I can do this’ or I can learn from it. That's why I like to keep trying things. I love very much the sport, motor racing is part of my life and I enjoy it very much.
“As long as I have that feeling that I can still do well, still show speed and be competitive. In racing you never know, you might have the winning car but you might not end up winning. That's what keep us driving and striving. So at this stage of my career, I want to keep achieving my goals, try new things, and see if I can learn new things so that I can be not only be better as a person, but also as a driver.”
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski