Castroneves coming to advertising near you

Expect to see a lot more of Helio Castroneves. No longer shackled by restrictions on tobacco advertising, one of IndyCar's most popular drivers will truly be set free this season.

Obviously that's a good thing for Castroneves, but it's a good thing for the series, too.

Other than Danica Patrick, no one causes a stir in the paddock like him — not reigning champ Dario Franchitti, not former champ Scott Dixon, not even third generation namesake Marco Andretti.

Patrick became mainstream because of savvy marketing. Castroneves got there through a force of personality and a fortunate run on "Dancing with the Stars." He's now earned more championships on the dance floor than he has in a race season, but no one can take away his three Indy 500 victories, 19 other wins nor his 34 poles.

Imagine how big he could have gotten over the last decade if he could have actually done a commercial or two.

Because of a long-standing sponsorship deal between Team Penske and Phillip Morris (and its Marlboro brand), Castroneves was paid handsomely, but also silently.

When big tobacco and the government started cutting their deals, it meant marketing went underground. When the cigarette makers had to take their logos off the cars, it meant they had to be eliminated from the promotional materials, too. It affected what the drivers could and couldn't do even off the track.

Well, the deal has run out and Team Penske is turning to a variety of companies to sponsor not only Castroneves, but also Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.

Coming aboard a new-look Penske livery will be Izod, Shell-Pennzoil, Meijer and the Auto Club of Southern California, while Verizon remains.

It's a bold new world for Castroneves and the team.

"I'm dying to be in a commercial," Castroneves said in a recent conference call, adding, "I'm not a good actor, but I know I can dance. Hopefully we'll be able to do something, and it will be a lot of fun."

Over the weekend, the Brazilian native got to be part of a holiday event for kids in Indianapolis because of the team's new partnership with Meijer.

"For us over the 10 to 11 years that I've been with Penske, we were not able to be doing these kind of events, obviously because of our association with Phillip Morris," he said. Mansfield News Journal

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