Helio Castroneves is one of the most accomplished open-wheel drivers in IndyCar history.
He is one of only 10 drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 at least three times. He has won 23 races and 38 poles in his career. He has spent his entire career with Team Penske, quite a feat in this era of motorsports.
But something glaring is missing from his impressive résumé — a championship. Yes, Castroneves, one of the most recognizable faces in the sport, has never won a driving championship at the end of the season.
That is still something that has most within the sport scratching their head.
“It’s crazy to think he hasn’t won a championship,” Ed Carpenter said during a recent testing stop at Texas Motor Speedway.
“He’s one of the more well-rounded drivers in IndyCar. I don’t know what the explanation is.”
Castroneves is just as baffled. If he could pinpoint the issue, of course, he would fix it and win. But it’s not that simple.
“A championship is something I’m working really hard toward and unfortunately it hasn’t meant to be yet,” Castroneves said. “But that’s one of the things that keep you motivated to come back this year and do it again.”
Castroneves’ quest for his first career championship ranks among the top storylines in IndyCar going into the season. The series kicks off Sunday with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and rest assured that several eyes will be watching Castroneves closely this season.
But a championship isn’t the only thing that continues to drive the 39-year-old Brazilian. Another Indy 500 win ranks just as high on his priority list as a championship.
Only three drivers have won four career Indy 500s, and Castroneves is in position to join that elite club along with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.
“Would I exchange any of my Indy 500 wins for a championship? Absolutely not,” Castroneves said. “That race is so special, and I feel that to be a part of that history means a lot.”
Castroneves is right. A case could be made that his success in the Indy 500, their sport’s Super Bowl, is bigger than winning a season championship.
There have been plenty of greats, regardless of sport, to never win a championship. Nobody is going to say Charles Barkley had a bad basketball career because he didn’t win a title, or that Ernie Banks was a subpar baseball player without a World Series ring.
With that being said, however, Castroneves knows it’s not a great distinction to have and feels he has several more opportunities to get it done. He has finished runner-up the past two seasons, and appears to still be in the peak of his career.
“I’m getting better, to be honest, instead of the opposite,” Castroneves said. “I’ve gotten so much more knowledge throughout my career and have developed ways to improve in all aspects — road courses, ovals, etc.
“It’s not like track and field where we need our body to go and sprint and maintain stamina. We just need the car and, if you have the knowledge and maneuver it properly, the sky’s the limit. Hopefully I’m the oldest guy out there who keeps winning.”
It’s hard not to like Kevin Harvick’s chances of repeating his championship this year.
Harvick has won twice, and finished second three times in the first five races. A pretty impressive start for the reigning champ, who is looking to extend that streak at Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
Harvick won at the short track, fondly known as “The Paperclip,” in the spring of 2011, but finished 33rd there last fall.
He said it
“Getting the clock at Martinsville was something that I always wanted to do. Short-track racing is something I love. It’s not a lost art but it’s definitely something we don’t get a lot of and don’t get to do very often. Martinsville is a great ticket and it’s a great racetrack.” — Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won for the first time at Martinsville last fall
8 Wins apiece by Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville. Those are the most among active drivers at the short track.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760