Helio Castroneves Dances and Climbs to Third Indianapolis 500 Win

Ken SeversonContributor IMay 24, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 24: Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Team Penske Dallara Honda, celebrates his victory with his pit crew and team during the IRL IndyCar Series 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 2009 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images )

Helio Castroneves completed an emotional and triumphant month by winning his third Indianapolis 500 race on Sunday.

Castroneves led 66 laps, including the final 59, to become the ninth driver to win three Indianapolis 500 races.  Afterwards, an emotional Castroneves, who was acquitted on tax evasion charges last month, was ecstatic.

"This is incredible," Castroneves said after he did his trademark climbing of the fence. "I think my tears speak for everything.  What a great team."

"This is the best month of May ever.  Wow. Three.  I can't believe it."

Finishing second was 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon, with Danica Patrick coming in at an Indy career-best finish of third.

Last year's race winner, Scott Dixon, was fifth and teammate and 2007 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti was sixth.

Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team owner Chip Ganassi said his team, which led for much of the race, lost it in the pits.

"One mistake on each car in the pits," Ganassi said. "That's what it was."

Prior to the pit stops, the Target drivers led a total of 118 laps, with Dixon leading a race-high 73 and Franchitti 45.

Castroneves' win also gave team owner Roger Penske his 15th win at Indianapolis, and first since Sam Hornish Jr's. win in 2006 to extend the legendary owner's record.

In the beginning, it didn't appear as if the winner of "Dancing With the Stars" was going to get number three.  After a botched start, which was waved off by IndyCar Series officials, Castroneves did lead the first seven laps, but gave way to Franchitti, who in a tandem with teammate Dixon, made the rest of the field play catch up.

Contact on the first lap with rookie Mario Moraes knocked Marco Andretti out of contention early.

Both Andretti and Moraes blamed each other for the accident.

"It's totally disappointing," Andretti said after the accident.  "(Moraes) is in way over his head with where he is now.  I'm sitting next to him and he just drives up into me."

Moraes accused Andretti of trying to win the race on the first turn.

"I don't know what Marco was doing out there," Moraes said. "I don't know if he knew, but this was 500 miles."

Andretti's teammate Tony Kanaan fared little better, crashing in his second straight race.

Kanaan, who had led at least one lap in his seven previous Indy 500 races, said something broke in the car and sent him crashing into the wall on Lap 97.

But while both Andretti and Kanaan had problems, teammate Patrick nearly had a late race chance to win, but in the end couldn't find a way past Wheldon and Castroneves.

"The Boost Mobile/Motorola guys did a great job in the pits today, and we had great stops all day," Patrick said.  "I had a really strong car for the last few stints and would have loved to see the last 35 laps raced green. I know we would have had no issues making it to the end without stopping.  It was a great race for the fans, and I’m happy for Helio (Castroneves)."

"He was super fast all day," Patrick added.

Castroneves joins A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser as the race's only three-time winners.

At 34, Castroneves has an excellent chance of joining Foyt, Unser, and Mears as a four-time winner, especially if he stays with Penske Racing—something that didn't look possible last month as he faced a possible federal prison term had he been found guilty of tax evasion.

"I have to thank Roger, Tim (Cindric), my guys, Phillip Morris, Verizon, everybody because they gave my life back," Castroneves said. "I'm here today because of those guys."

In winning, Castroneves became the 20th driver to win the 500 from the pole, and he became the first driver to win the pole, Pit Stop Competition and the race since Buddy Rice in 2004.