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Castroneves Scores Riveting SRX Win at Five Flags

Sweat, sacrifice and sweet victory for Helio Castroneves at Five Flags. (Photo: SRX)

Sweat, sacrifice and sweet victory for Helio Castroneves at Five Flags. (Photo: SRX)

Despite the intense heat and humidity that challenged competitors for the SRX’s season opener at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Helio Castroneves showcased his might and determination in grand fashion.

While placing 12th in the Heat 1 race, he parlayed a solid starting position with a win in Heat 2. Once the competitors had a brief moment to cool down before the 75-lap, main event, the action proved intense and competitive, even with a few caution “fun” flags slowing the action on a few occasions.

In the early going, short track, late model superstar Bubba Pollard asserted himself as the man to beat. In the early going, Pollard illustrated his might and savvy against Castroneves, Ryan Newman and Tony Kanaan.

As the race progressed, Newman, Kanaan and Castroneves asserted themselves into the picture as formidable contenders. With some paint trading, close quarters racing, even as the field spread out, the action was relentless for the lead.

Impressively, Castroneves and Kanaan, known for their brilliant battles and successes in the NTT INDYCAR Series, seemed at home in these unique, SRX stock cars.

Pollard had his work cut out for him in the middle portion of the race as he suffered a flat left rear tire. Undeterred, the leadfooter brought himself back into contention and in position for the win.

When all was said and done, it was the late invitee, Castroneves, who won the season opener and stood atop the podium. After his trademark Spider-Man catchfence climb to the delight of the race fans, he reflected on his latest achievement.

Castroneves looked at home in a stock car. (Photo: SRX)

Castroneves looked at home in a stock car. (Photo: SRX)

“I pulled every string, every sweat I had there,” Castroneves shared. “What a fun series man. That was so much fun. Thanks to SRX for the opportunity. I wasn’t even supposed to be here today and look, we ended up getting the trophy. It shows this series is amazing and I’m so happy, so happy.”

Although Pollard came up a spot short of repeating Doug Coby’s magic in the inaugural SRX season opener at Stafford Springs, Connecticut last year, a runner-up result is nothing to be ashamed about.

“Tonight was a lot of fun,” Pollard said. “The cars fired off up there and it was fun to drive. It was a handful. That’s what it’s all about man. The cars are equal. You are out there digging, getting as much as you can. It’s hot. We started the race with clean air and we were good. We got back in traffic with the invert (for heat two) but were still able to maneuver up through there. Super free, tightened the car up and the left-rear flat just killed me.

“I was just sitting there riding, kind of watching and seeing what those guys had and they could really get up off the corner pretty good and that was really surprising. It was a lot of fun racing. I can’t thank everyone enough for this opportunity. Once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t say enough about SRX, HightPoint coming on board, everyone that has helped me get here. It’s been a lot of fun.”

For Newman, it was a chance to remind fans and his racing comrades that he’s still got his game. Indeed, with equally prepared cars and challenging conditions abound, Newman, who placed third, wasn’t afraid to extend his elbows against some of the legendary icons of racing.

Helio Castroneves beat the heat and competition at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. (Photo: SRX)

Helio Castroneves beat the heat and competition at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. (Photo: SRX)

“It was just plain hot, Florida Everglades hot,” Newman observed. “Just happy to have a good run. It meant a lot to me personally after all I’ve been through in the last year and a half, two years with cars that were not so fun to drive, let’s put it that way. To come out here with as equally as prepared car as possible and have some fun and race with these guys. Some of them I haven’t raced with in a long time and some of them I’ve never raced with.

“Just to put on a good show, racing there with Bubba (Pollard) at the end was pretty spectacular, he’s the best here no doubt. To get a top three amongst, what I feel like, are the top drivers in the world is pretty special. A good run for our Sun Outdoors car and it was a lot of fun and that was number one priority for me.”

Rounding out the top five were Tony Kanaan and Bobby Labonte, two seasoned racers with competitive flair. In the case of Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion was content while learning how to extract the maximum from the car.

“It was a good night,” Labonte recalled. “I didn’t know how much to push early as far as racing on the tires. I think Helio (Castroneves) proved to me that you just got to run wide open. I kind of got to their back bumper with a few laps to go, but didn’t need to run the outside, I didn’t want to lose my spot.

“I think between the heat race I moved up in the first one because we started 11th, the second one we maintained or close to it. In the feature, I moved up early, but I didn’t want to burn up my tires and stayed in a pretty good spot and raced the guys I need to race. It wasn’t bad. A little disappointed it wasn’t a spot better.”

Greg Biffle, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Bill Elliott and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10 with Ernie Francis Jr., Paul Tracy and Michael Waltrip placing 11th through 13th.

South Boston Speedway in South Boston, Virginia plays host to round two of the Camping World SRX Series on Saturday, June 25 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount +. Castroneves seeks his second consecutive win while Stewart, Andretti, Biffle, Hunter-Reay, Labonte, Newman, Tracy, Waltrip, Francis and Kanaan will be joined by Peyton Sellers, a short track legend from the Southeast.

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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