Helio Castroneves thinks it’s a matter of when, not if, he wins an IndyCar championship.
A title is the only thing missing from Castroneves’ résumé. The 42-year-old Brazilian has 29 career wins, including three at the Indianapolis 500 and a track-record four at Texas Motor Speedway.
Castroneves hasn’t visited Victory Lane since June 2014, though, a drought that has extended 51 races. But Castroneves has managed to stay in championship contention this season without the wins by posting top-10 finishes in all eight races.
Castroneves knows he must turn those strong showings into victories to win a championship, and a visit to Texas is always welcomed. Castroneves has the most top-5s and top-10s of any open-wheel driver in track history, and he’ll be a favorite even from the 10th starting position for Saturday’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600.
“It’d be awesome to get our fifth win,” Castroneves said. “We’re really focused on it. We know we can do it. We’ve got to put ourselves in position during the race and make the most of our opportunities.”
Texas has been known as a track where drivers can rally from behind. Justin Wilson came from the 17th starting spot to win the race in 2012, and Graham Rahal rallied from the 13th spot to win last year.
Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Honda, posted the best qualifying run to win the Star-Telegram qualifying day with a top speed of 222.556 mph. Scott Dixon, who is leading the points standings despite, like Castroneves, not winning a race, will start second.
Dixon is hoping this is the weekend he breaks through after a season in which he already has three runner-up finishes.
“The positive for us is that we’ve had very good speed throughout the season,” Dixon said. “Hopefully if you keep knocking on the door, one is going to open up at one point.”
Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champ, will start third followed by veteran Tony Kanaan fourth and Tristan Vautier fifth. This year’s Indy 500 champ, Takuma Sato, qualified eighth. Rahal, the reigning TMS winner who swept both races at Detroit last weekend, is starting 11th.
But eyes will be on Castroneves, who remains one of the most popular drivers in open-wheel racing. He almost won a fourth Indy 500 before being passed in the final laps by Sato last month.
That would have been a historic moment for Castroneves, putting him tied with the most alongside A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Sr. and Rick Mears.
“We’ve already turned the page, but it was disappointing obviously,” Castroneves said of his near-win. “We did everything in our power to be where we were and we finished second. We’re already thinking about next year. But right now we’re focused on winning a championship.
“Every year, we’re right there in it. Every year we’re challenging and fighting for it. One of these years it’s going to be our turn, and I think it’s going to be this year.”
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Castroneves is confident because of how well he’s run this year, evident by his second-place standing without any wins.
As stated, Castroneves believes he can earn his first win of the season at Texas. But his past experience won’t matter as much with the track undergoing a repave and re-profile project before the season.
Drivers such as Castroneves and Will Power hope that doesn’t lead to more pack racing.
As Power put it, “[Who wins] is not actually based on talent. It’s based on having [boldness] and that’s a very bad combination.”
Castroneves agreed, but is optimistic about putting on a good show for the fans. Most would be thrilled to see him back in Victory Lane.
“When you have a pack race, it’s tough because everyone is running in the same line and it can get really, really dangerous,” Castroneves said.
“But we tested out here [in April] and it went well. It’ll be a lot of fun. I believe it’s going to be an exciting race, especially when the weather comes down. It should be an exciting race for the drivers and for the fans.”
Rainguard Water Sealers 600
7:30 p.m. Saturday, NBCSN