Castroneves, Penske verbally agree on long-term deal

WATKINS GLEN, NY - Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves confirmed Friday that he is close to securing a long-term contract extension to remain with Team Penske in the IndyCar Series.

Helio and Team Penske president Tim Cindric agreed to basic terms for a long-term contract extension during recent discussions at Richmond International Raceway.

The story was originally reported by the Indianapolis Star.

Castroneves joined Roger Penske's CART Champ Car team prior to the 2000 season and moved with Team Penske into the IRL IndyCar Series full-time in 2002. The 33-year-old Brazilian has won a total of 18 races for Penske, most notably the 2001 and '02 editions of the Indianapolis 500.

The ebullient native of Sao Paulo is best known for his trademark fence-climbing victory celebration, often copied by NASCAR's Tony Stewart, and his winning performance on "Dancing With the Stars."

"We're in the process of getting there," Castroneves said at Watkins Glen International, where he is competing in the Camping World Indy Grand Prix. "We're getting close and right now I'm looking to be with Team Penske for quite a long time."

Cindric is at Daytona International Speedway this weekend with Penske's NASCAR Sprint Cup team. Penske, who is recovering from a recent medical procedure, is not expected to arrive at Watkins Glen until Sunday.

Castroneves was the latest IndyCar star to be linked to the NASCAR scene. The two most recent series and Indy 500 champions (Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti) made the move to stock cars this year, while former open-wheelers A.J. Allmendinger and Patrick Carpenter also have tried (and found little success) in NASCAR competition.

"I don't think the opportunity right now of going to NASCAR is the best one," Castroneves said.

Castroneves' decision to remain in IndyCars is a boost for the open-wheel series, which is showing significant signs of growth this year for the first time in more than a decade.

Terry Angstadt, president of the IndyCar Series' commercial division, welcomed the news that Castroneves plans to stick around for the long-term.

"We had some very good momentum prior to unification and it's just increased dramatically," Angstadt said. "We just see a lot of interest and enthusiasm and willingness to take a very hard look at what we're doing."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.