Helio Castroneves ponders hypothetical move to NASCAR

USA TODAY Sports

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves said that he was open to sampling NASCAR if presented with the right opportunity.

Could Helio Castroneves become the next open-wheel star to try his hand at NASCAR?

Castroneves, the current IndyCar Series championship leader, appeared open to the idea when asked about it during a Friday press conference at Texas Motor Speedway.

"It's a good question," Castroneves said. "If there is an opportunity, yes but I'd like to try the car first. I remember talking to Rick Mears about it a long time ago and I asked him about the differences and he said that you should try it before making a decision."

The closest Castroneves has ever gotten to NASCAR was 16 starts in the now-defunct International Race of Champions (IROC) Series, which was contested primarily on ovals with fields of mostly NASCAR drivers. Castroneves says that he enjoyed his time in IROC and was motivated by the challenges of a stock car.

"It was actually a lot of fun and very difficult, but a lot of fun," Castroneves said. "If the opportunity presents itself then certainly, I would love to try it. But right now I have only one thing on my mind and that is trying to win as many races as possible and hopefully bring this championship to [team owner, Roger Penske.]"

Castroneves has a better chance to succeed than many other open-wheel hopefuls. He drives for Team Penske, which already has a two-car NASCAR Sprint Cup team and is coming off a victory in the Chase for the Championship with Brad Keselowski.

And one of Penske's Nationwide Series cars is driven by three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., Castroneves' former teammate, who switched to NASCAR in 2008.

Texas Motor Speedway was the site of Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event as well as Saturday's IndyCar race, leading to questions about the vast differences between the two disciplines.

"We are very different from NASCAR, obviously," Castroneves said. "They are so heavy and even the aerodynamics for them is very important. For us, we're so much lighter and we do have more downforce."

Castroneves has been linked to NASCAR before, having to deflect questions about a possible move in 2008. The Brazilian was in the final year of his IndyCar contract but ultimately decided to stay in his comfort zone.

At 38 years old, a full-time move seems unlikely, but it would make a lot of sense to give Castroneves a few starts on the road courses and in some restrictor plate races in advance of a possible run at the Daytona 500.

Like his former open-wheel rival Juan Pablo Montoya, Castroneves could seek to become just the third different driver to win both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. And a Sam Hornish Cup return could make for three different drivers trying to achieve the feat.

It's not imminent or likely, but it's still fun to think about.

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