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Helio Castroneves Leads Penske Racing to 15th Indy 500 Win

May 24, 2009

Photocourtesy of IMS Photo



INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (May 24, 2009) - Helio Castroneves paused amid the postrace mayhem Sunday and - as he has done numerous times this month - wept tears of joy. He'd just won the Indianapolis 500 for the third time in nine years, but this one was the most unlikely - and sweetest - of all.

Castroneves recovered from a mid-race setback to come back and win the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500, ending an improbable month in which Castroneves faced a federal jury only to be exonerated and win the world's most famous auto race for the third time in his career.

Many people have told him in recent weeks that he's blessed, but nobody understands that sentiment better than Castroneves himself.

"This is awesome," Castroneves said over the radio between sobs during the cool-down lap on Sunday. "Thank you. Thank you guys so much. This is incredible."

Castroneves and his No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda pulled away from Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick on a restart with 17 laps remaining and won the race by 1.9819 seconds. He's now one victory away from tying Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser for the most Indy 500 victories in a career, and Roger Penske's team extended its record to 15 victories in the storied race.

"These guys gave me my life back," Castroneves said of his Penske Racing colleagues. "I'm here today because of these guys. And obviously the fans. The fans kept me strong. They are the best. I'm honored to have fans like these."

Castroneves wasn't the only Penske Racing driver to perform well. Ryan Briscoe led 11 laps in the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda before a tire issue dropped him back in the running order, but he recovered to run second behind Castroneves late in the race. Briscoe eventually was forced to stop for fuel and finished 15th, but he was thrilled by his teammate's victory.

"What a story Helio is," Briscoe said. "It's just incredible. It's just unbelievable for him. I'm so happy for Helio. It's just a Cinderella story. He's like a newborn kid on top of the world."

Will Power, who filled in for Castroneves when he was unavailable to drive to start the season, also contended for the victory and eventually finished fifth in the No. 12 Team Verizon Wireless Dallara/Honda.

"It was a good result," Power said. "I could see the win there within our reach. That certainly would have made my situation easier. I think Roger (Penske) will be happy with a top-five. I haven't hit the wall or anything. I'm happy. Helio did a good job. He deserves that win. He worked very hard, and he's a good driver. It couldn't have gone to a better guy."

Indeed. The remarkable story of Castroneves and his determination won over a crowd of nearly 300,000 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "On the surface he has that outgoing personality," team owner Roger Penske said. "He might climb the fence, but inside he's as tough of nails. He had to be to go through what he went through the last six months. It's really a credit to the team."

And a credit to a talented racer who's counting his blessings.

"To be here talking about this is very special," said Castroneves, fighting tears. "This place is magic."

With the victory, Castroneves improved to second in the IndyCar Series standings, as he now trails series leader Dario Franchitti by just five points, despite missing the first race of the year. Briscoe is ranked third, just eight points behind the leader, while Power - who also missed a race this season - is eighth in the standings.

Team Penske returns to action next weekend at the Milwaukee Mile.