Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and has 30 victories overall and 50 poles in his 19-year career.
The popular 42-year-old driver is still looking for a season championship.
He hopes to change that this season. With three races left, including Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park, Castroneves sits third in the points with 472 — 22 behind leader Josef Newgarden and four back of second-place Scott Dixon.
“We’re in a battle here,” Castroneves said Friday before qualifying. “There are a lot of points to go with three races. Right now, we’ve got to keep scoring points and doing what we’re doing. It’s still up in the air. It’s not for lack of trying. Not for a lack of being competitive.”
IndyCar is back at the track in Madison for the first time since 2003, when Castroneves held off Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran for the win — the last 1-2-3 Brazilian sweep in the series. There is a new owner in former open-wheel driver Curtis Francois, who has put more than $15 million of his own money in revitalizing a track that was mere hours from being closed forever in 2011.
Castroneves, who now drives for Team Penske, has fond memories of Gateway, not only because he won at the oval, but because he drove for the late Carl Hogan in 1999 and still counts the Hogan family as close friends.
“This place is very special for me,” he said. “The family has always received me with open arms.”
Castroneves hopes the newly repaved 1.25-mile oval likes him as well. It is an unusual track, shaped somewhat like an egg.
“I really love this place,” Castroneves said. “It can really help us a lot. But I can’t wait until we go to Sonoma. It will be worth 200 points (as a double points race) in the game and that’s a lot. Everything is still wide open.”
Kanaan said his fellow Brazilian is “doing just fine” when asked if he had any advice.
“This championship, if it ever comes for him, I’ll be extremely happy for him,” said Kanaan, who is ninth in the standings. “But if this championship doesn’t come, I think he’ll be OK.”
As for the points battle, Newgarden, one of Castroneves’ three other teammates, likes being on top with three races remaining.
“You’re either chasing or your leading and I’d rather be leading,” Newgarden offered. “We’ve got three races to go so it’s not a sure thing. We’ve got to look after it. It doesn’t really matter where you’re at, as long as you put yourself in a spot where you can control your destiny, that’s really important.”
Dixon, the four-time points champion who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, wants to make sure he stays within striking distance in the last three stops on the 17-race schedule.
After Gateway, the series moves to the road courses at Watkins Glen next weekend and then the finale at Sonoma on Sept. 17.
“The tracks we have coming up are going to be very, very tough for (our car),” Newgarden said. “We’re going to have to try to at least reduce the damage. Watkins Glen has been a strong track for us. We have to get some decent points. We will take each weekend as they come.”