Castroneves reaches another milestone with 320th start tonight

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Helio Castroneves has achieved quite a bit in his illustrious Indy car racing career.

The Team Penske driver ranks fourth on the all-time list with 47 pole positions, is tied for 11th in wins with 29 and is known worldwide as a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

When Castroneves takes the green flag tonight for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network), he’ll achieve yet another career milestone that even he wasn’t aware of. Castroneves will make his 320th race start, which will tie him on the all-time list with Al Unser in fourth place.

“I did not know this fact,” Castroneves admitted Friday. “Hopefully we can close (the weekend) with a win and move on in the championship.”

So far, he’s off to a great start at a track where he has won four races and one pole. Castroneves will start the race third in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet after compiling a two-lap average of 216.740 mph during qualifying Friday on the 1.455-mile oval. It will be the 10th time he will start in the top five at Texas in 19 races.

“We’re very happy with the qualifying results and not surprised at all,” Castroneves said. “The AAA Insurance Chevrolet team is the best and have worked really hard on this car.”

Tonight will also mark Castroneves’ sixth top-three start this season, though none have translated into race wins. In fact, the 41-year-old Brazilian hasn’t been to the top step of the podium in more than two years – 36 starts ago in the second Chevrolet Dual in Detroit race on June 1, 2014.

He has come close a few times this year, with four top-five finishes and had what many thought was the car to beat at the 100th Indianapolis 500 two weeks ago until late contact from JR Hildebrand took him out of contention and to an 11th-place finish. Heading into the ninth race of the season tonight, Castroneves sits third in the championship, 86 points behind leader and teammate Simon Pagenaud.

“A couple things different here and there and we could have a couple of victories, but that's racing and you need some luck,” he said. “At some point we'll be on the right side of some of these things. Texas has been good to us over the years, so we hope to keep that going.”

That kind of optimism is part of the passion and desire that has driven Castroneves to keep racing hard at age 41. Coming up through the Brazilian karting ranks and South American and European Formula 3 training ground, Castroneves came to the United States in 1996 and teamed with Tony Kanaan for two seasons in Indy Lights. Kanaan, incidentally, sits one Indy car start behind Castroneves and will compete in race No. 319 of his career tonight.

Castroneves’ first Indy car start came March 15, 1998, at Homestead-Miami Speedway driving for Bettenhausen Motorsports in CART. Following one season with Bettenhausen and another at Hogan Racing, Castroneves joined the powerful Team Penske, where he remains for a 17th season.

Through it all, he has missed but one race, putting together a consecutive start streak of 193 races (1998-2008) that is fourth best all time and the current streak that began in 2009 and will become 127 straight races tonight. And he has no plans of slowing down soon.

“I have never doubted myself and my team and the people who support me,” said Castroneves. “To this day, I still have as much desire, not only like when I started but with much more experience. I love it.”

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