He hadn’t been expected to compete until the day of the race, but Helio Castroneves demonstrated full mastery of the Camping World SRX Series field in the opening round at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla.
Four-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves won the second of the two heat races, besting local ringer Bubba Pollard — winner of the opening heat — in the 75-lap main event on the half-mile short track. NASCAR veteran Ryan Newman completed the podium with a third-place finish.
IndyCar racers had a strong night, with Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Paul Tracy leading the way in the opening two heat races and main. In the final, Castroneves outdueled fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan for the lead and then built a comparatively comfortable lead to the finish, while Pollard and Newman fought over second in the final lapse.
“I pulled every string, every sweat I had there. What a fun series, man. That was so much fun. Thanks to SRX for the opportunity,” enthused Castroneves. “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today and look, we ended up getting the trophy. It shows this series is amazing and I’m so happy, so happy.”
Local racer Pollard was thrilled with his showing in the opening round of the six-race short track series in identically prepared cars featuring racing stars from various disciplines.
“Tonight was a lot of fun. The cars fired off up there and it was fun to drive,” he noted. “It was a handful. That’s what it’s all about man. The cars are equal. You are out there digging, getting as much as you can. It’s hot. We started the race with clean air and we were good. We got back in traffic with the invert (for heat two) but were still able to maneuver up through there. Super free, tightened the car up and the left-rear flat just killed me. I was just sitting there riding, kind of watching and seeing what those guys had and they could really get up off the corner pretty good and that was really surprising.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for this opportunity. Once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t say enough about SRX, HightPoint coming on board, everyone that has helped me get here. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Newman agreed on the hot part: “It was just plain hot, Florida Everglades hot,” he said. “Just happy to have a good run. It meant a lot to me personally after all I’ve been through in the last year and a half, two years with cars that were not so fun to drive, let’s put it that way. To come out here with as equally as prepared because as possible and have some fun and race with these guys. Some of them I haven’t raced with in a long time and some of them I’ve never raced with. Just to put on a good show, racing there with Bubba at the end was pretty spectacular — he’s the best here no doubt. To get a top three amongst, what I feel like, are the top drivers in the world is pretty special. A good run for our Sun Outdoors car and it was a lot of fun and that was number one priority for me.”
The Camping World SRX Series now heads to South Boston Speedway on Saturday, June 25. Local ringer Peyton Sellers will join Tony Stewart, Marco Andretti, Greg Biffle, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Paul Tracy, Michael Waltrip, Helio Castroneves, Ernie Francis Jr. and Tony Kanaan. The action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on CBS TV.
Main Event results:
Finishing Position Driver Car Number
1 Helio Castroneves 06
2 Bubba Pollard 26
3 Ryan Newman 39
4 Tony Kanaan 6
5 Bobby Labonte 18
6 Greg Biffle 69
7 Marco Andretti 98
8 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1
9 Bill Elliott 9
10 Tony Stewart 14
11 Ernie Francis Jr. 5
12 Paul Tracy 3
13 Michael Waltrip 15