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Helio Castroneves stole the show at Five Flags Speedway on Saturday night. In more ways than one.
The four-time Indy 500 champion won the season-opening Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) event in Pensacola, Florida, even though he wasn’t entered in it until the day before.
SRX is an all-star series scheduled to run six events this summer featuring drivers from different disciplines, including NASCAR and IndyCar, competing in identically prepared stock cars on short oval tracks.
Castroneves raced in SRX last year when he was running a part-time IndyCar schedule and decided this week that he wanted to race at Five Flags, but told Racing America that no one was responding to his messages, so on Friday he just decided to head to the track.
“I bought my own ticket, I got everything ready to go, and when I was on the plane I asked Ashely [SRX’s director of operations] what time I should be to the track, she’s like, ‘oh, you’re not supposed to be here,’ Castroneves said.
“So I was like, ‘I’m already on the plane,’ she’s like, ‘hold on.’ I landed, it’s like, ‘I got a car for you and everything else.’ So all of a sudden I get here and everyone’s like, ‘what are you doing here?’ But it was kind of like funny.”
Castroneves won the main event by a wide margin over Bubba Pollard, a local driver who earned a seat in a car SRX reserves for hometown heroes from lower series at each race, while veteran NASCAR driver Ryan Newman finished third in his first SRX start.
It sounds like Castroneves won more than the race, however. He said he and SRX CEO Don Hawk had a bet that if he won a race this season Hawk would help him secure a Cup Series car for next year’s Daytona 500.
Castroneves has never raced in NASCAR, but would be vying to become just the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, along with A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.