Castroneves is Going to Make a NASCAR Start after Winning SRX

The four-time Indy 500 winner has wanted to race a Cup car for almost two decades.

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Hélio Castroneves was not originally scheduled to compete in the Superstar Racing Experience opener at Five Flags Speedway on Saturday night but left with the trophy anyway.

More importantly, the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner also left the Florida Gulf Coast with the promise of something else he has wanted for well over a decade … a NASCAR opportunity.

Backstory: When Castroneves returned to full-time NTT IndyCar Series competition this spring, it meant he couldn’t run the full SRX campaign, but new league CEO Donald Hawk really wanted to keep him in the mix as frequently as possible.

So, they cut a deal in January: Run as many races as he could, and if Castroneves could win one of them, Hawk would call upon his vast NASCAR connections to get him in a car at Daytona in exchange.

Deal.

Castroneves went out of his way to do his part this weekend, making a last-minute decision to buy a commercial flight ticket into Pensacola without even knowing if the series would have a car available for him to race, since he wasn’t on the initial 12 car entry list for Five Flags Speedway.

Ashley Rogero-Butcher, the SRX operations director sent Hawk a text at roughly 9:30 p.m. CT on Friday night, asking if there was a way to get Castroneves in the race.

"I kept bringing up Pensacola and no one really responded to me, so I bought my own ticket, got everything ready to go and got on the plane," Castroneves said. "I asked Ashley when I needed to be at the track, and she says ‘you’re not supposed to be here,’ and I tell her I’m already on the plane."

The plane took off and Rogero-Butcher went to work.

As it so turned out, one of the backup cars on the premises was actually the car he raced full-time last year.

"We landed and Ashley says we have a car for you, and everything else," Castroneves added.

It just a matter of Tony Eury Jr., Clinton Cram, Jeff Fultz and the FURY Race was Cars team getting the machine prepared overnight in advance of his arrival. Tim Bryant, general manager of Five Flags Speedway, was tasked with finding a vinyl company to print the decals and everything came together early on Saturday morning.

The car was rolled out around 10:00 a.m. -- an hour prior to the start of practice.

"I get there, and everyone is like, ‘what are you doing here,’ and it was kind of funny," Castroneves said. "I start in the back and raced my way to the top. I can’t believe it. That’s why SRX is amazing. It gives an opportunity to everyone."

Speaking of opportunities, Hawk now has to pay up on that promise to Castroneves.

"This year, for me to race SRX, Hawk said ‘look, win a race and I’ll help you find a ride for Daytona, and I told him we had a deal," Castroneves said. "Now, he he’s got to make it happen on his end but it’s so cool to be here and what a great opportunity."

Before taking the SRX job, Hawk spent 14 years at Speedway Motorsports, most recently as chief racing development officer. He previously served as manager of Alan Kulwicki Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. Hawk has the connections to make it happen.

For his part, Castroneves has long wanted to make a start, or multiple starts in NASCAR, but was always denied by longtime boss Roger Penske during his tenure at Team Penske across both the IndyCar Series and IMSA.

Castroneves won his fourth Indianapolis 500 last year as a part-timer for Meyer Shank Racing and returned to the paddock full-time in 2022 as a 47-year-old. If there was ever a time to make those NASCAR dreams a reality, it was now, and he wasn’t missing a chance to win in through Donald Hawk and SRX even on a weekend he wasn’t scheduled to compete.