INDIANAPOLIS – Forget Helio Castroneves has never won an NTT IndyCar Series championship. Forget that he’s just one win shy of moving into a tie for 10th place on the all-time wins list in the series. Forget that when he stepped away from full-time driving in this series that he was third on the all-time poles list, just 17 shy of first. Forget that also when he retired as a full time driver he was second in second place finishes, sixth in career podiums and tied for fourth in career top fives.
A few mores seasons and all those accolades could have moved Castroneves closer to the top of each major statistical category. But, when Team Penske had to downsize from a four car operation to three, Castroneves was unfortunately on the chopping block.
He had offers to continue on in pursuit of that first career season title. But, one thing sticks out for the popular Brazilian driver – a fourth Indy 500 crown.
Since Castroneves showed up to Indy as a wide eyed rookie in 2001, this race made him. Castroneves, won in not only his first career start in the big race, becoming just the second rookie in 34 years to drink the milk, but he became the first driver in three decades to repeat as a winner. Yes, 2002 was controversial, but Castroneves nevertheless was declared the victory.
He wanted to three peat in 2003. No one had ever done that before. Instead, he finished second to his teammate Gil de Ferran. Three top two finishes in three tries in the world’s most famous race was a feat in it’s own.
Castroneves was on the racing map. Unfortunately, it took him seven more starts before he tasted victory again on the famed 2.5-mile oval in 2009. Still, at that point, Castroneves had six top four finishes and eight top 10 finishes in nine tries at Indy. A fourth win would be coming soon right?
Well, as we come into next Sunday’s 103rd Running (11 a.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network), he’s still searching for it.
In his last nine tries, Castroneves only had two top five finishes. Both though, were close runner-ups.
Castroneves, finished only 0.0600-seconds behind eventual race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014, the second closest finish ever. A few years later, in 2017, he was just 0.2011-seconds behind Takuma Sato for the win, another one of the closest finishes ever.
Combined, Castroneves has lost two Indy 500’s by only 0.2611-seconds in the last five years. Just think about that. If a few inches go differently, Castroneves would be a five-time Indy 500 champion at this point.
Now, after pleading to Roger Penske after crashing out of last year’s race, resulting in his worst career result in the ‘500, he’s back for more.
“It still does,” Castroneves said on how quickly he got over last year’s crash. “It was obviously very disappointing not knowing what happened. That’s the worst part, especially on an oval. You need to understand to prevent so that doesn’t happen again. After we figured it out, it was a combination of a bunch of little things. Because of that, I’m preparing so that doesn’t happen again.”
Penske, dominated this race last year. Will Power won giving Penske their second ‘500 triumph in four years. They put three of their four cars in the Fast Nine. Will Chevrolet still have the same superspeedway advantage this year as they did last?
If so, watch out for Castroneves. He says that his desire is just as strong now as it was when he showed up here 18 years ago. In fact, it’s actually stronger because he knows what it’s like to win here and so badly wants to get that taste again. He said that he thinks about it literally everyday. He wakes up thinking about a fourth win. He wears his past rings every day and he says when he puts them on, his desire for a fourth victory immediately comes into his head.
In two of his three current wins, he’s started 11th (2001) and 13th (2002). Why not 12th in 2019? I mean, the only times he’s started outside the top 10 here, he’s finished first or second in three of those four races. Can he make it 4-for-5?