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This could be his year

Castroneves, who has never won an IndyCar series title, leads after two races before Sunday's Grand Prix of Long Beach.

April 19, 2013|Jim Peltz
  • Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves sits on pit wall after practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 6, 2013.
Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves sits on pit wall after practice for… (Nick Laham / Getty Images )

Helio Castroneves has won the Indianapolis 500 three times, earned 27 career victories overall and he even placed first in the "Dancing with the Stars" contest one year.

But there's one thing missing from the veteran driver's resume: an IndyCar championship.

Hoping to fill the void this year, Castroneves is leading the Izod IndyCar Series standings entering the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday.

"I'm really pushing and the good news is we have a great team," Castroneves, 37, said of Team Penske, whose other driver is Australian Will Power, the 2012 Long Beach winner who narrowly lost the IndyCar title last year.

The 11-turn Long Beach race, which is run on 1.97 miles of the city's coastal streets, is the third event on the 19-race IndyCar calendar.

Castroneves finished second in the season opener, a street race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and he was third two weeks ago at the winding Barber Motorsports Park course in Birmingham, Ala.

As a result, the Brazilian has a nine-point lead in the standings over two-time champion Scott Dixon and a 13-point lead over reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Castroneves also is a former winner at Long Beach with a victory in 2001.

While being a champion and an Indy 500 winner would make perfect bookmarks to his career, Castroneves said he would not feel regret if the title escapes him before he retires.

"Absolutely not," he said. "But it's not for a lack of trying and discipline."

And Castroneves has set no timetable on his retirement. He'll keep racing "as long as I've got the fire here, man," he said, pointing to his chest, "as long as I enjoy it and love it. And I love it.

"If I can't win" the championship, Castroneves added, "hopefully my teammate can."

Power, 32, had three wins overall last year and took a 17-point lead into the season finale last September at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in hopes of winning his first title.

But during the race Power suddenly lost control, crashed and ended up losing the championship by three points to Hunter-Reay.

Power is eighth in the standings so far this year, 32 points behind Castroneves. But Power is known as an exceptional driver on street courses and a perennial favorite at Long Beach.

Other favorites this weekend include Hunter-Reay, who drives for the Andretti Autosport team, and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who won the Long Beach race in 2009.

Franchitti is off to a terrible start this season. After finishing 25th in each of the first two races, he's last among the 26 drivers in the series' title standings.

The IndyCar drivers practice Friday and qualify Saturday to set the race's starting lineup.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

When: Today-Sunday.

2012 winner: Will Power.

SCHEDULE*

Today: Practice 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Saturday: Practice 10:40 a.m., qualifying 2 p.m. Pro/celebrity race 11:40 a.m.

Sunday: Grand prix 1:40 p.m.

*Other types of race cars practice, qualify and race all three days as well.

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