Castroneves Ascends to New Heights
Helio Castroneves had barely finished crying and spilling winner's milk after his third Indianapolis 500 victory Sunday when he was asked if he thought about possibly winning five Borg-Warner trophies before he's done.
Never mind that the Brazilian - the fastest ever to three Indy 500 wins - must first join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in addition to the immediate matter of pursuing that elusive first IndyCar Series championship. But considering how Castroneves capped a storybook month of May by conquering everything the Brickyard offered 51/2 weeks after getting his life back in a Miami courtroom, it's not a stretch for Castroneves to at least ponder racing immortality.
"I tell you, you can't be thinking about five without making three," he said after becoming the 20th driver to win Indy from the pole. "We just made three, and now (I'm) thinking about (a) fourth. I will think about it, dream about it, but we've got to work for it. (We) certainly have the team to do that, but we have a long way. Right now I'm just going to enjoy this moment, because it's very special."
In joining five other drivers as three-time Indy winners, Castroneves stamped his name on everything from capturing his third pole to posting the fastest speed in Friday's Carb Day final practice to winning the Pit Crew Challenge - the first since Buddy Rice ran the table in 2004.
He appeared vulnerable after yielding his lead to 2007 winner Dario Franchitti on lap seven and falling as low as sixth with handling and gearbox issues during a pit stop, but successive adjustments to Team Penske's No. 3 Dallara/Honda and his own will got him back in the hunt before he vaporized Scott Dixon after a restart on lap 142 of 200.
Castroneves held off teammate Ryan Briscoe and Danica Patrick on restarts and, with several late laps of about 220 mph, no way would 2005 winner Dan Wheldon catch him after Wheldon passed Patrick on lap 183. He won by 1.9819 seconds, followed by Wheldon, Patrick, Townsend Bell and Will Power, driving a third Penske car after substituting for Castroneves.
The victory was owner Roger Penske's record 15th at Indy.
"It was one of those things at the end where I just didn't have enough for Helio," said Wheldon, driving for Panther Racing. "I was toward the end having to hold off Danica. ... It was a good day."
Said Patrick, who rallied from 10th after overshooting her pit stall for her best Indy finish, "It was a good day. I wish it would have ended up a little bit better than what it did, but that's the way it goes here and that's what makes this place so awesome and frustrating."
Castroneves' next stop is Sunday at The Milwaukee Mile, where he will try to continue the roll that has him second and within five points of first-place Franchitti. When he, sister Kati and attorney Alan Miller were acquitted of tax-evasion charges April 17 (prosecutors Friday dropped a conspiracy charge that ended in a hung jury), he thought only of regaining sanctuary in the cockpit.
He's now part of an exclusive list, with many more years to become even more elite.
"I feel pretty honored just to be there," said Castroneves, who earned an Indy 500 record $3,048,005. "But without a team, without good people surrounding you, you cannot make that. I give (Team Penske) credit, all my guys and especially Ryan and Will, they did the preparation while I was not there. And that was incredible."
Pit notes: Indy 500 rookie of the year Alex Tagliani, who started last in 33rd, finished 11th. ... NASCAR regular John Andretti finished 19th in the No. 43 co-owned by seven-time champion Richard Petty and was the last car on the lead lap. ... Tony Kanaan's seven-race streak of leading a lap at Indy ended when something broke in his car and he hit the Turn 3 wall on lap 98. He also failed to finish for the second year in a row. ... Vitor Meira was fitted with a back brace after breaking two vertebrae in a crash with rookie Raphael Matos on lap 174. Meira was admitted to Methodist Hospital but won't need surgery.