Castroneves relates his 'Dancing' experience to IndyCar success

Many years ago, longtime NASCAR crew chief Harry Hyde said a stock car is

"like an egg. You have to handle it gently or it will break."

Though at its heart it was true, it was a shocking statement. Who compares a stock car — a big, brute of a car — to such a thin-shelled egg? That philosophy may have found its match during a Grand Prix of Baltimore interview with Helio Castroneves when he compared driving an Indy car to dancing.

"There are no secrets," Castroneves said, when asked how competitors on Dancing with the Stars are able to perform intricate moves so quickly. "Dancing is just like racing. You don't learn choreography. They just give you steps to do and you do them over and over and over. It's very much like what I do in racing. When I'm driving the race track, it's all about repetition."

He has to learn when to brake, where the bumps are, where the corner is tight.

"I learn all that by going 'round all the time," Castroneves said.

The person who does it best, who gets the rhythm right, usually wins in both competitions.

Oddly, Castroneves won Dancing with the Stars in 2007 in his first try — a performance he hopes to repeat this fall when he returns as a member of a lineup featuring the most popular former winners — but he has yet to win his first Indy car series title, despite spending the past 13 years with Team Penske, the most successful Indy car team of all-time.

Castroneves has won three Indianapolis 500s, putting him in select company — only three drivers, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears have won four. And his two wins this season give him 27, tying him with Johnny Rutherford and Scott Dixon for 11th on the all-time career wins list.

But an Indy car series championship? Not yet.

Today, the 37-year-old is third in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings as he lines up for the Grand Prix of Sonoma. He is just 26 points out of first place with three races to run.

After Sonoma, the series will be at the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sept. 2, before wrapping up with the MAVTV 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Sept. 15.

"I have been in this position before," said Castoneves, who finished in second in 2002 and 2008. "But when I was here before, I wasn't in position to execute or make it happen. Now I have another chance to use all my experience. "We're in a position we deserve and I'm going to be aggressive enough to get the job done."

A year ago, Castroneves was in a funk. The series established new rules, including side-by-side starts and restarts, and he struggled to adjust. He didn't win a race. It was the first time that happened since 1999, the year before he joined Penske.

"It was very simple last year," Castroneves said. "If you don't finish half of the races, you are not going to have a very good season. Since then, we pulled ourselves together. We fixed our problems and found our rhythm. I saw the races I did well in last year were the races I was able to be in control. I learned it's OK when you're fast to take a step back — I think, I hope. I've made enough mistakes to understand when and how to make those decisions."

Now, he said, it is time to put the entire package together. Be bold, yes, but only when the odds are on his side. Otherwise, he'll sit tight, be patient and then make the move.

"Sometimes, it's better to compose yourself and be second," Castroneves said. "It might win a championship."

But sometimes, a man has to take a risk. Castroneves took one in 2007 when he agreed to do Dancing with the Stars and emerged the show's very popular champion. Now, he's going to do it again. He said he is doing it so his daughter, Mikaella, who is 2 1/2, can see a different side of him.

"I'm excited about it," Castroneves said. "I'm at a different place in my life now. I have a daughter and a future wife. Mikaella has been coming to the races and now dancing will give her a different close-up look at her dad. It also teaches the lesson that anything you want to do well comes with hard work."

It might achieve something else, too.

"I do consider myself married," Castroneves said. "And I have proposed, by the way."

And she said yes?

"Not yet," he said, almost sheepishly. "She said I have to be more romantic."

Dancing could help that.


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