May 25, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
The most hallowed club in the realm of the Indianapolis 500 is made up of three men: A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears, who have all earned four victories each in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
For a time, it looked like a fourth man, Helio Castroneves, was seemingly on his way to joining that club. But over the last four years, which has seen the competition only get tougher, the Brazilian’s Indy magic has ebbed with finishes of ninth, 17th, 10th, and sixth.
However, another opportunity awaits him today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he always senses the call of history.
“Every time I go here, it brings me great memories,” the Team Penske driver said Thursday. “But we can’t live in the past. We’ve got to look ahead and we’re doing everything we can to accomplish that. I feel very confident.”
For this year’s ‘500,’ Castroneves is paying tribute to Mears, who now serves as Team Penske’s driver coach, by carrying a special livery that nods to Mears’ second ‘500’ win for Penske back in 1984.
With that in mind, it would seem fitting if Castroneves chalked up Indy win No. 4 today. But in order to finally break through for that incredible milestone, Castroneves and his Shell/Pennzoil crew will have to keep one step ahead of a tight field.
To him, there are no also-rans in this year’s 33-car lineup, which is also the fastest in ‘500’ history.
“I think all the teams and drivers have stepped up their game and that’s why [everyone’s] so close to each other; it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said.
And as such, it will be the little things that likely prove giant once again.
“I thought last year, there were a lot of drivers that had a chance to win and I don’t think that’s different this year,” he said. “Details will make the difference, whether it’s a pit stop, if it’s strategy or things like that.
“Those are the things that will give you an opportunity to win this race.”
Castroneves also noted the importance of being able to keep up at the front of the pack throughout the day and making the right decisions in regards to timing passes out of the draft.
“Normally, in the past, the time to go was the last pit stop but here, the way the things are going, if you’re not there in the Top 5 – especially in the beginning, because it’s so difficult to pass,” he said.
“Everybody seems to be able to have a very good car in the draft. You’ve got to plan [passes] well.”
But if all goes right for Castroneves and he finally earns his fourth ‘500’ title, he’ll no longer have to dream about what it would mean.
“In my dreams, it’s meant the world,” he said. “Just thinking about it, joining a club with only three guys – I hope I can answer that question after the race.”
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