Continued from part 1 Q: Last year, when this race started, it was such a goofy way they started that race; can you talk about that first lap and the pace car pulling off the top of the key? It seems like a real disjointed type of thing ...
Continued from part 1
Q: Last year, when this race started, it was such a goofy way they started that race; can you talk about that first lap and the pace car pulling off the top of the key? It seems like a real disjointed type of thing there.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I think if I recall, it was Marco (Andretti) crashing or flipping over or something like that. Well, it's racing and nothing you can predict. I was in the pole position, and I was doing everything I can to have a decent start and in the same way to not put any harm on my position.
But, it's racing and sometimes driver take unnecessary risks, but you can't blame anybody or the pace car because of what they are doing for the start. But it is what it is, and hopefully this year we'll start the same way but just change the finish a little bit.
Q: Considering what happened with Dario (Franchitti) last week, what is the perception IndyCar Series drivers have of NASCAR? Is it still sort of the land of opportunity, or is the grass looking kind of greener where you guys are right now?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, no question about it, if you ask me, many, many people have already asked me about NASCAR, you're always kind of thinking when you see those first incredible drivers, plus the series, it grew so much in the last 10, 15 years. So, yes, you always see it as an option, but it depends on the time and the opportunity.
I cannot speak about Dario (Franchitti), what happened, because I have no idea what's related. But the only thing I can say, IndyCar Series, no question about it, the merger, it makes more -- it seems to be going in the right direction. We seem to have a bright future ahead of us, and maybe the right opportunity for the IRL drivers and for the open-wheel series is to stay over here because it definitely is going to get better.
So I'm looking to do that. I just re-signed with Team Penske, and I'm extremely happy to hopefully clinch the championship this year, and in the next few years.
Q: You mentioned re-signing. All of the reports I've seen have said you will be in the IndyCar Series long-term, but if Ryan Newman were to leave the stock car side, could you slide over there like Sam (Hornish Jr.) did?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Unfortunately that's something that I have not discussed with the team. But one thing I know, in the next few years, I'm definitely going to be in the IndyCar Series, and whatever happens in the future, we've got to see what's the opportunity and the timing.
Q: So the foreseeable future, next couple years you're in the IndyCar?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm in the IndyCar Series in the future, yes.
Q: Forgive me if this is already covered, but after the re-signing announcement, where do you see your future in IndyCar? You've won the biggest race of the series two times; is it just looking for that first championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, not only that, just because I won the biggest race doesn't mean I don't want to win it again. I want to hopefully, you know, succeed. We were very close to having a third -- I know if I did it once or twice, I know I can do it a third time, and that's my goal. My goal is to continue being there, and as well, the championship. It doesn't matter if you win once; that means, OK, I'm over, that's it, let's go to the next challenge.
The next challenge is to continue being on top, and probably sometimes people don't understand that that is the hardest thing, just to be there. That's why my goal right now is to focus on this year, and I'm extremely happy with the team. I'm happy that they are happy with me as well, and we have been able to get an agreement, and now it's time to move on.
As I said, the series is getting brighter, and hopefully it looks like we're going to have good, good, sponsorships for the series, a lot more good things happening to the series, it looks like it's going to happen.
So the only thing that I can say is it's a great opportunity for everyone, not only myself, but for everyone that is part of the open-wheel series, and that's why I want to continue to succeed and accomplish my goals.
Q: Tim Cindric talked the other day and said they never considered another driver for your position. Is there any question in your mind that you would re-sign with Penske?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Not at all. The good news is between Roger Penske and I, Tim Cindric and I, I've always been outspoken about how I've enjoyed staying on the team, and they always seem to be very loyal and true, as well. Like I said, as long as I'm competitive and as long as I feel that I can help the team develop and reach their goals, I'm going to continue working as hard as I can, because it's an honor to be part of the Team Penske organization.
Q: How would you grade how the Champ Car drivers are doing so far this year? Are they coming along better than you expected or are they struggling a bit more than you expected?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, on the short ovals they seem to be extremely good. I can see that they've improved a lot. Maybe for the one-and-a-half-mile ovals it might be a little bit tougher, because we've developed this car since 2003, and obviously little tricks that they still are learning.
We paid that price when we moved to the IRL in 2002, and I remember we had a hard time to keep some times in the top six on those type of circuits.
So I think that they are doing extremely well, and now that we are going to go to road courses, they will be in good shape.
Q: Just talk again about Nashville, looking at your stats, I don't think you've ever led a lap here. What is it about this track that is giving you fits here at Nashville?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thanks for reminding me of that.
I guess, I don't know, my expectation is always to go for it, and sometimes we probably didn't find the right direction, or, I don't know, I always like to be there because I know it's a challenging place. But sometimes drivers can find a little bit of obstacles, and you just don't know what to do. I've tried everything in the past few years to find the speed and find this kind of scenario.
In a race car, you have to remember there are so many variables that one little thing that may be is right under your nose, and you don't know and you didn't try, so you have to wait for one more year and try it again.
Obviously the testing is very limited. It's been a long time since we've tested in Nashville, and when you test, no question, you find a lot of small details that improve you. So I think that's one of the reasons that we are not able to do so well.
But no question about it, we've been working 24/7 to make sure this year we changed the situation.
Q: I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about the championship. More often than not in your Indy Car Series career, you've been at or right there in the championship, but now you're in another one this year. Has there been -- have you decided to make a change in mind-set for what you want to do for this year's title race, and if so, has it been a minor change from what you've done in the past or has it been a major change for you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I have to say, I'm feeling different. You know, sometimes people ask, 'Oh, you didn't win a race,' and I say, 'Listen, if I can win this championship without winning a race, trust me, we're going to be extremely happy.'
But we know how valuable it is to win a race, so we focus not only on the championship; we focus on both, and winning races. But if we don't have the opportunity because the competition is so hard, we are not just going to throw a second- or third-place or fourth- or fifth-place away just because we know we cannot win.
I feel that not only myself, it's the time's mentality and focus. Again, we constantly continue working. Having Ryan Briscoe right now on the team, it's a great asset. He's a fast guy and he has a lot of experience, as well, in numerous different race cars, so that actually is also good for us to keep improving.
Again, our team, it's extremely comfortable right now, and yes, we want to make sure we get our first spot and make the gap smaller every weekend.
So Nashville, no question, we think is the same way.
Q: Last year obviously the guy in front of you, Scott Dixon, was able to rattle off a bunch of wins in this stretch, and this year he did win at Texas; does it give you a boost of confidence that you're staying within striking distance of him?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. He knows that, too. Last week, as you can see, he had everything in his hand to take a very comfortable lead on the championship, and by overconfidence, probably, I don't know, or whatever happened, you know, it just slipped away. And that for me is a great opportunity for a comeback. I do feel Nashville is going to be a good race for us.
Q: Everybody works hard in the garage. Are good results just hard work meeting good luck, or is it hard work overcoming bad luck?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good comment. I have to say that the race starts actually on Friday, and for us, the actual race day, it's basically the results of what you prepared in those practice and qualifying (sessions), because like I said, you have limited testing, you just can't find enough information.
And that's why if you have a team that may right away have all of a sudden get off the truck positive and ready to go, yes, he's lucky and he's going to be much better than most, and it depends obviously on circumstances on the track, which this year is going to be essential. I mean, we are talking about 26 cars, or 28, I don't know.
But we always know that it's the second line, second groove in Nashville. It's extremely hard, and when you're facing traffic like that, it's going to be a little bit harder to find a way for people to overtake other guys. That might be crucial.
So again, I do feel that we are going to be looking strong, and hopefully Friday, we are going to make our luck on Saturday much better.
Q: Along the same lines, hot streaks, they come and go; is that like finding the magic and having the magic disappear?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think so. If it were magic, trust me, I would make sure that we would make everything right, but racing, you cannot predict until the final lap or the checkered flag.
So what happened last week, I do feel that it just shows that Scott (Dixon) and also the team, they can make a mistake, as well, and that's good for us. They have weak spots, as well, and we hope the momentum keeps going for us, because it will definitely help us in the championship.
THE MODERATOR: Helio and Cliff, thank you for joining us this afternoon, and best of us to both of you on a real successful weekend in Nashville.