SRX at Five Flags: Helio Castroneves wins season opener after being a late entry

A little over 24 hours ago, Helio Castroneves hadn't been planning to compete in the season opener for the Camping World SRX Series. Then, Castroneves changed his plans -- and based on the trophy he now has, it's a good thing he did.

After being a late entry for the SRX season opener, Castroneves outdueled fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan and short track ace Bubba Pollard to take the checkered flag and win at Five Flags Speedway. After clearing Kanaan for the lead, Castroneves built a comfortable lead for himself to cruise to victory as Pollard and Ryan Newman put on a spirited battle for second in the final laps.

According to Matt Weaver of Racing America, Castroneves' path to victory began at 10:34 p.m. ET last night, when he texted SRX's Don Hawk to see if there was a car available for him to drive. It turned out a car was available, and it ended up being quickly prepared for Castroneves to eventually take to the winner's circle.

SRX at Five Flags podium

  1. #06 - Helio Castroneves
  2. #26 - Bubba Pollard
  3. #39 - Ryan Newman
  4. #6 - Tony Kanaan
  5. #18 - Bobby Labonte
  6. #69 - Greg Biffle
  7. #98 - Marco Andretti
  8. #1 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
  9. #9 - Bill Elliott
  10. #14 - Tony Stewart
  11. #5 - Ernie Francis Jr.
  12. #3 - Paul Tracy
  13. #15 - Michael Waltrip

To no one's surprise, former Snowball Derby winner and four-time Five Flags Speedway track champion Bubba Pollard quickly established himself as the driver to beat. The surprise, though, was who ended up challenging him for the win throughout the night. Pollard's primary challengers came from the IndyCar ranks, as Castroneves, Kanaan and Paul Tracy led much of the night between the opening two Heat races and the 75-lap main event.

Even in extreme heat -- temperatures were in the high 90s before sundown, so intense that they actually cooked the pace car before the main event -- Pollard looked like one cool customer. But his chance at winning was severely compromised when he cut down a left rear tire, forcing him to come to pit road under caution and then come all the way back from the rear of the field. Pollard's advance stalled at second, as he had to muscle the difficult-to-pass Ryan Newman out of the way on the final lap to take that spot.

There was a great deal riding on Saturday night's race for Castroneves. In Victory Lane, Castroneves revealed a bet he made with SRX CEO Don Hawk: If Castroneves won the race, Hawk would have to give Castroneves the funding to run a NASCAR race at Daytona for the first time in his career.

"Hawk said, 'Look, win a race and I'll help you find a ride for Daytona.' I'm like, 'Deal.' Hey, now he's got to make it happen on his end," Castroneves said post-race. "It's so cool to be here, and what a great opportunity."

When asked about the bet afterwards, Hawk confirmed what Castroneves said and added he'd hold up his end of the bargain.

"That was our deal; we're going to do it," Hawk said, per Weaver.

Next Race

The Camping World SRX Series returns next Saturday night, as the Superstar Racing Experience moves on to the legendary South Boston Speedway in South Boston, Va.

Live updates
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Helio Castroneves wins the season opener at Five Flags Speedway. Bubba Pollard muscles Ryan Newman out of his way to take second, and Newman finishes third.

1 - #06 - Helio Castroneves
2 - #26 - Bubba Pollard
3 - #39 - Ryan Newman
4 - #6 - Tony Kanaan
5 - #18 - Bobby Labonte

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White flag for Helio Castroneves.

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Two to go. It looks like the race is for second as Castroneves cruises out front.

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Five to go. Helio Castroneves has a second and a half lead.

Contract between Newman and Kanaan! Bubba Pollard makes it three-wide and passes Kanaan, and now he'll challenge Newman for second!

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Less than 10 to go now. If Bubba Pollard has any chance of winning this race, he's going to have to find a way to pass Ryan Newman for third. Newman is looking for second from Tony Kanaan, as Helio Castroneves drives well away from the field.

Kanaan and Newman now side-by-side for second.

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Looked like there was a close call a little further back in the pack. I think Michael Waltrip and Marco Andretti were the two that got into each other. Both were sideways in Turn 4 but managed to hang onto it.

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Green flag with 15 laps to go. Side-by-side in the first four spots.

Castroneves moves Kanaan up the track ever so slightly, but Kanaan's hanging in there -- Until now. Castroneves to the lead with 13 to go.

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There will be 15 laps to go when the race restarts. Something to remember: Per SRX rules, the last 10 laps of this race must be green flag laps.

Tony Kanaan leads Helio Castroneves, Ryan Newman, Bubba Pollard, and Bobby Labonte.

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@SRXracing via Twitter
June 19, 2022, 1:48 AM
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Bubba Pollard moves past Bobby Labonte for fourth, and now goes after Ryan Newman for third. The four-time Five Flags champion and former Snowball Derby winner has been on a mad charge through the field.

The fun flag is out again. Lap 57 of 75.

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Kanaan now clears Castroneves and puts about a carlength and a half on his fellow IndyCar driver. Ryan Newman runs third, Bobby Labonte is fourth, and Bubba Pollard has moved up to fifth to get back in the Top 5.

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Green flag at Lap 44. Kanaan and Castroneves go at it again, while Ryan Newman looks for an opening to get in there.

He almost had one coming out of Turn 4, but the two two emerge from a slide off Turn 4 and continue racing side-by-side.

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Caution is out again at Lap 39.

Bubba Pollard made it back up to seventh by the end of that run.

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Green flag is back out on Lap 27. It's all Brazil at the front of the field, as Kanaan and Castroneves go at it for the lead.

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Bubba Pollard to pit road under caution. He had a flat left rear tire that needed to be changed.

A tough break for Pollard, who was running third at the moment of caution but will have to work his way back up through the field.

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Caution is out at Lap 21. It's the Fun Flag again, so we'll stack the field back up and have them go at it again.

One thing I forgot to mention: Tony Stewart roughed up Paul Tracy again. That was while they were racing for sixth spot.

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Another lead change! Tony Kanaan was able to get to the bottom of Bubba Pollard, and he now goes to the lead with IndyCar contemporary Helio Castroneves right behind him.

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Tony Kanaan now leans on Newman for second. That side-by-side battle allows Pollard to put about two carlengths on his nearest competitors.

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Here comes Bubba Pollard back for the lead! He gets to the inside of Newman and takes the top spot back.

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Ryan Newman completes the pass and takes the lead from Pollard. Then it's Kanaan, Stewart, and Castroneves right behind them. Five car battle for the top spot.

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Ryan Newman puts a nose under Bubba Pollard and now challenges him for the race lead. Close quarters as the top fix go at each other, and there's some contact between Newman and Pollard.

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