Helio Castroneves, the No. 3 Team Penske crew and the rest of the Penske Racing team demonstrated on Friday just how prepared and focused they are for Sunday's Indianapolis 500. The proof came in several different forms at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
First, Castroneves recorded the fastest lap during the final practice session before the race, and teammates Ryan Briscoe and Will Power were right behind him. Then, to drive home the point that Castroneves and the No. 3 team is serious about winning the race for a third time in nine years, the driver and his crew won the pit stop competition during Carburetion Day activities.
"This has been the best month of my life," said Castroneves, who will start from the pole when Sunday's race begins shortly after 1 p.m. ET. "I can't begin to thank everyone enough for what has happened this month. I'm blessed in every way."
Castroneves and the No. 3 Penske Racing Dallara/Honda recorded a lap of 223.920 mph during the one-hour Carb Day practice session, in which teams fire up their new race engines and make final checks on equipment. "It was important for us to run well today," said Castroneves. "I feel very confident. I can't wait for Sunday, I'll tell you that. It's going to be a long race and a lot of things can happen, but I can't wait for Sunday."
The two other Penske cars, driven by Briscoe and Power, posted laps among the top five. Power was second-fastest during the session, turning a lap of 223.560 mph in the No. 12 Team Verizon Wireless Dallara/Honda. Briscoe had the fifth-fastest lap - 222.374 mph - in the No. 6 Team Penske entry.
Power, who will compete in the Indy 500 for just the second time, said he's more confident and composed this time, due mostly to his experience with Penske Racing. "It's a process where you learn and you experience from everything going on around you," Power said. "This has been a more comfortable month for me this year, for sure."
Briscoe, who will start second in Sunday's race, said his car has felt solid all month.
"Everything feels like it did in the ‘T' (backup) car when we left it last week," he said. "We're in good shape. I'm excited about Sunday, and we're ready to go racing."
Castroneves and his crew, led by veteran crew chief Rick Rinaman, capped a magical day by edging Marco Andretti in the finals of the pit stop competition with a final stop of just 7.962 seconds, a record in the final round of the competition. Friday's win was the third in a row for Castroneves and Rinaman's crew and the 11th since 1981 by Roger Penske's team.
"Some of these guys have been with me for 10 years or more," Castroneves said. "We're a team. We win together, we lose together, we celebrate together. This one is very special for me. The month is falling into place. I'm so thankful to have these guys."
Penske has won the race after winning the pit stop competition three times: in 1981 with Bobby Unser, in 1985 with Danny Sullivan and in 2002 with Helio Castroneves.
"The energy is with Helio," Rinaman said. "I don't know if he's ever come into the garage depressed or down. It spreads through the team. You have to be there every day to understand it. I'm glad I have him and these guys behind me."
After an off day Saturday that includes a public drivers' meeting and the Indy 500 parade in downtown Indianapolis, Penske Racing will prepare for Sunday's race. The Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to begin shortly after 1 p.m. ET and will be televised live on ABC-TV.