Commentary

Cup stars Gordon, Martin, Johnson take notice of Helio's fancy footwork

Updated: October 16, 2007, 8:56 PM ET
By Angelique Chengelis | Special to ESPN.com

The mobile phone of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves recently has been flooded with calls from drivers in a variety of series, including Nextel Cup drivers Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson.

Castroneves, the affable Brazilian Indy car driver, is participating in the popular television competition on ABC, "Dancing with the Stars."

"Jeff, Jimmie, Mark ... they've called and said, 'Man, you're doing fantastic. You're doing great. I can't believe you have the balls to do this. I can't believe you have the courage to do this,'" Castroneves said this week in a phone interview. "It's fun to have everybody watching."

Castroneves became acquainted with the Cup stars when he participated in the IROC series.

He also is longtime friends with Juan Pablo Montoya, the former Indy 500 winner and Formula One driver, now a rookie in the Cup series.

"I asked Montoya if he would do [the show], and he said, 'No way, no way I'm going to do that,'" said Castroneves, who has advanced to the third round.

If there could be one driver from the Cup series to compete on "Dancing with the Stars," Castroneves believes Gordon could be the only one to pull it off.

Despite the grueling dance training, Castroneves has made time for work, however, and has tested his Indy car for Team Penske in Iowa and Alabama. He has not been too busy to take note of the number of open-wheel drivers who are headed to the Cup series.

"I think, definitely, NASCAR is the biggest motorsports series in America," Castroneves said. "The popularity is huge. Drivers want to go and you want to take the challenge. Obviously, I'm dancing instead of going to NASCAR -- it's a different challenge.

"I enjoy open-wheel racing, but if I have an opportunity to try something new and different, why not? [Dario] Franchitti accomplished his goals [winning the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series title this year], so it's natural. When you see something that's similar to what you do, you want to try and see what you can do."

For the record, Castroneves said he is not interested in making the move from open-wheel to stock cars -- yet. He does, however, take exception to anyone who thinks having foreign drivers in the series is a bad thing.

"If they do well, team owners don't care if you're American or foreign," Castroneves said.

Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's motorsports coverage.

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