Indy 500 Brickyard Triumph
On Sunday, Helio Castroneves became the ninth driver to win the historic Indy 500 race three times, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Just 5 1/2 weeks ago, he was acquitted of most charges at a federal tax evasion trial, and the remaining count was thrown out on Friday.
Instead of going to prison for six years, Castroneves pulled his red-and-white car into Victory Lane at the Brickyard. He was extremely emotional, and simply brought to tears when team owner Roger Penske leaned in to give him a hug. His mom, sister and girlfriend held hands in prayer as he was making the turn for the final lap. As he pulled into the brickyard, he could be heard lamenting and thanking God for his victory. “Thanks for giving my life back,” the 34-year-old Brazilian told his boss, who earned his record 15th win at Indy.
Castroneves completed a clean sweep of every Indy prize, also claiming the pole position and winning the pit-stop competition. Throw in the federal government’s decision to drop the last of the tax charges just minutes before he went out for the final practice, and “this is the best month of May ever,” said Castroneves, now only one win away from joining the most elite group of all: four-time Indy winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
Castroneves pulled away over the final laps to beat Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick, who eclipsed her historic fourth-place finish as a rookie in 2005 by crossing the strip of bricks in third.
This day belonged to Castroneves, who pumped his fist all the way down the final straightaway. “I want to climb the fence,” said the driver known as “Spiderman,” referring to his signature celebration. Then he did just that, climbing out of his car after the victory lap and scaling the fence along the main grandstand with his pit crew. Someone tossed him a green-and-yellow Brazilian flag.
Catroneves’ victory was popular with the quarter million fans, who were on hand to witness this feel good story on the hot spring day. The fans were on their feet, cheering and waving their caps as Castroneves sped around the 2.5-mile oval for the final time. “You guys kept me strong,” Castroneves told the crowd. “You guys are the best. I’m honored to have fans like you. “Let’s celebrate now!”
Although Castroneves celebrated a big win, there were other big name contenders who were ousted prematurely as a result of crashes, among them Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. The most frightening wreck occurred on lap 173, when Brazilians Vitor Meira and Raphael Matos got together going into the first turn. Meira’s car went head-on into the padded outside wall. He was removed from the car, put on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital, complaining of severe lower-back pain.
The lengthy caution period ensured that everyone had enough fuel to get to the finish. When the race restarted with 17 laps to go, Castroneves got a great jump on Wheldon and Patrick and pulled away to win by nearly 2 seconds.
It was clear from the start that Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing had the strongest cars. Castroneves led 66 laps and teammate Ryan Briscoe ran out front for 11. On the Ganassi side, defending 500 champion Scott Dixon set the pace for a race-best 73 laps, while his teammate Dario Franchitti, who won in 2007 and returned to Indy this year after a disappointing foray into stock cars, led the other 50.