• Three Indy 500 wins. Thirty total victories, 50 poles. Helio Castroneves has had quite a career but he's still seeking his first IndyCar championship.
By Mike Harris
September 14, 2017

During a 20-year career as an IndyCar driver, Helio Castroneves has become one of the most popular and most successful racers across all of the sport's various series.

Castroneves, 42, has won the Indianapolis 500 three times. Only three drivers have won more, and they're only one ahead of Castroneves.

He's won a total of 30 races and been on the pole 50 times.

It's hard to argue he's been anything but a success.

"I want to be remembered as a guy who was always fighting for it, fought with passion, fought with everything he had," Castroneves said.

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You know what Castroneves doesn't have? A championship. If this was golf, he'd be hung with that dreaded best player to never win a major tag. He's been runner-up four times and been in the top five in 13 of his 20 seasons. But he's never claimed the season-long points trophy.

As usual, he has a shot this season. The final race of the 2017 IndyCar season is Sunday in Sonoma, Calif. (6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and Castroneves is one of four drivers with a realistic shot at winning this year's title. He's currently third in points, behind teammate Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon. Defending champion Simon Pagenaud sits behind Castroneves, putting three Penske drivers firmly in the championship picture along with Dixon of the Chip Ganassi Racing team.

The finale is a double-points race. If Castroneves wins at Sonoma (something he did in 2008) and Newgarden finishes third or below, he's the champion.  If Castroneves finishes second, he needs Dixon to finish no better than fifth and Newgarden no better than sixth. 

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And yes, Castroneves would love to claim the championship. While not winning one wouldn't detract that much from a great career, winning one would certainly be an enhancement.

"As an athlete, as a person, you certainly work for it to get those goals," Castroneves said. "It doesn't mean that I'm going to cry about it or be depressed [if it doesn't happen]. My career has been super strong. I've worked hard and it certainly seems to have paid off. Just unfortunately, it has never seemed to happen.

"Certainly, it would be the cherry on top of the ice cream. All these years, this is the 20th season, that's what has kept me going. It would be great to end 2017 with a championship. Who knows what is going to happen next year? For sure, I'll focus more than 100 percent. That's not to say I didn't before but for sure it would be a storybook ending to finish with a championship."

Ah, yes. Who knows what is going to happen in the future? There's been talk that this may be Castroneves's final season as a full-time IndyCar driver. He may move to a sports car program (and still race in the Indianapolis 500). He says he doesn't know yet where he'll be doing most of his driving in 2018.

"Right now, there is nothing official working with our team," he said. "We're focused on the championship."

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Right now, Castroneves is thrilled to be focused on racing again. A Brazilian, Castroneves lives with his family in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.  They stayed with family in Atlanta during Hurricane Irma and will head back to Florida after Sunday's race. He's been in touch with his neighbors, he said, and reports his property sustained minimal damage beyond some issues with a dock behind his house. 

"Monday, wow, and we just had a little fraction of what was going on in Miami," Castroneves said. "Other than the damage to the dock, all is good. Nothing major, everyone is healthy and we're ready to keep moving on."

If he does return home with a championship, Castroneves will be the second-oldest to capture the title. Al Unser Sr. was 45 when he won for the second time in 1985. Castroneves will be the oldest first-time champion.

It won't be easy. Newgarden, 24, is in his first season with Team Penske. His four victories lead the circuit this season and he's won three of the past five races. Dixon has won four championships, nosing out a Penske driver each time (winning by 30 points or fewer) and he has three victories at Sonoma.  If Pagenaud wins the title, he'll become the first to successfully defend since Dario Franchitti won three straight from 2009-11. Pagenaud won last year at Sonoma.

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