When the IndyCar Series roster unloads at Belle Isle Raceway Park on Friday afternoon, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner will not be amongst them.
Instead, Hélio Castroneves will find himself racing in unassuming Stafford Springs, Conn. as the headline attraction for Superstar Racing Experience — a six-race summer miniseries best described as IROC with a grassroots twist.
The races will each air on CBS over the next six weeks at iconic Stafford Motor Speedway, Knoxville Raceway, Eldora Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Slinger Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Joining Castroneves on the full-time roster is Tony Stewart, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Michael Waltrip, Willy T. Ribbs, Paul Tracy and Ernie Francis Jr.
At 46, and still very much in Dancing With the Stars shape, Castroneves wants one last shot at a full-time IndyCar ride.
After winning at Indianapolis, there has been some conversation with Meyer Shank Racing about adding races but entering Belle Isle at the last minute would likely have come at the expense of performance.
“I was talking to them about that,” Castroneves said during a Monday SRX media call. “It’s a favorite place. I went there many times and it’s a dear place in my heart too.
“But I understand, I can only push, you know? I think I have a little bit of credit, but I also understand priorities against doing things in a rush as well. … We’re consistently talking and we’re living in a very good place in a good way. Momentum.”
In the meanwhile, Castroneves is excited for this new adventure racing on dirt tracks and pavement bullrings with largely the same cast of characters as his IROC tenure. He raced against Stewart, Kanaan, Labonte in the International Race of Champions.
“The dirt races are definitely going to level the playing field for some of us,” Castroneves said. “It’s not like the IROC we used to have in the past.
“Most of the NASCAR drivers had the big advantage because it’s their tracks and it’s basically the cars the Cup (Series) used and it was similar with the drafting. Now this, who knows, I’m not saying I’ll be fantastic, but winning the Indianapolis 500 will give it a lot of attention.
“I’m very happy a new series is stating and I’m happy to expose it to the fans because we have a lot of former champions and people that did incredible in motorsports.”
And what an incredible coup for SRX to get the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion for the next six weeks, and what a neat experience for grassroots racing fans at these six tracks, venues that wouldn’t have played host to Castroneves under any other circumstance.
It’s also a neat experience for Castroneves, who feels like he’s channeling his inner AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti with the most diverse schedule of his career — and one that started with wins in the Rolex 24 and the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“People used to do the Daytona, and Indy 500s,” Castroneves said. “They’d race the 24 Hours and that was a whole other ball game, which was great for all motorsports.
“You look back at the gods of racing, they won so many because they were allowed to. When I was racing with Penske, and I understand, but the owner get very sensitive to you racing other cars. There is risk and they’re paying you a lot of money.”
Castroneves has made a lot of money, and he made a lot of money last month too, so now it’s time for fun.
“In temrs of dirt, last time I was on dirt was 12 years old when I was on my BMX and playing in my hometown, so it will be interesting for sure,” Castroneves said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to learn with those champions, and we’re going to have some fender benders, rubbing and banging or something like that, some here and there, but it will be a lot of fun.”
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