Race Castroneves leads historic Penske one-two

There are certain things in sports that just feel right, that are meant to be. An Indy car owned by Roger Penske winning the Indianapolis 500 falls into that category.

Race Castroneves leads historic Penske one-two

Team Penske achieved redemption in the 85th Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves defeated team mate Gil de Ferran by 1.7373-seconds on Sunday for Roger Penske's record 11th Indy 500 victory. Castroneves averaged 153.601 miles per hour in a Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora.

CART teams swept the top six positions in what would have to be considered a bad day for the rival Indy Racing League.

Michael Andretti was third, followed by Jimmy Vasser and Bruno Junqueira. Tony Stewart was sixth and then jumped into a helicopter, then an aeroplace and flew to Concord, North Carolina to compete in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Winston Cup race. Stewart was forced to start at the back of the starting line-up in that race and finished a fantastic third.

Stewart was the last car on the lead lap in the Indianapolis 500. The highest finished IRL driver was Eliseo Salazar, who finished seventh followed by IRL drivers Airton Dare, Billy Boat and Felipe Giaffone.

The 1-2 finish by Castroneves and de Ferran served as complete vindication for Penske, who dominated at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the open-wheel circuit split in 1996.

The last time two drivers from the same team finished first and second in the same race was 1997 when Arie Luyendyk won and Scott Goodyear finished second for team owner Fred Treadway. Prior to that, it was 1962 when Rodger Ward was the winner and Len Sutton second for team owner Bob Wilke.

Penske removed a lingering bitter taste left from his last visit here in 1995, when Team Penske drivers Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi failed to make the field.

"When I think about today's race and to finish 1-2, it kind of takes away the pain that we had in 1995," Penske said. "I can tell you walking back to the garage with Al and Emerson after we did not make the field in 1995 and coming to victory circle today is a big difference."

It was the second straight year an Indianapolis 500 rookie - but a CART veteran - has won the race. Last year, the winner was CART star Juan Montoya, who since has moved to Formula 1.

Although the CART drivers smoked the IRL for the second straight year of the uneasy truce between the open-wheel circuits, the IRL formula engine and chassis package produced a competitive race with tight racing throughout most of the event and 13 lead changes among eight drivers.

"It's unbelievable that we are here and it was a fantastic day for Team Penske," Castroneves said. "I have to thank Roger. I'm always going to thank this guy for the opportunity he gave me in my life, in my career. It's priceless. My car wasn't the best by itself, but it was fantastic in traffic. No doubt, it paid off today."

Castroneves was the eighth rookie to win the Indy 500. Ray Harroun was the first winner in 1911 and has been followed by Jules Goux in 1913, Rene Thomas 1914, Frank Lockhart in 1926, George Sounders in 1927, Graham Hill in 1966 and Montoya.

In the closing 100 miles, the IRL's best hope was Robbie Buhl, who was running second in hot pursuit of Castroneves. Buhl's charge ended when he spun out of the second turn on the 166th lap and backed into the infield retaining wall.

"It's satisfying for me and my guys to know that we were contending for the win," Buhl said. "We had a car that could have won. The Infiniti power was great. We had the car geared right. We didn't miss a beat. We were running second at the time and we didn't want to run second. We want to lead. There was some traffic in front of us. I laid down a gear just trying to get a run on Castroneves and it got loose.

"When I spun out there, I didn't spin trying to hold on, I spun trying to go for the lead. I don't have any regrets for that. That's why we were there, to get in the lead and win the Indy 500."

The leaders pitted on lap 168 and the race was restarted on lap 172 with Castroneves in front of de Ferran and Andretti. He stayed there for the remainder of the race to defeat his team mate.

Castroneves started a new tradition at Indianapolis by jumping out of the car and climbing the fence at the start-finish line despite protests by IRL officials over the exuberant outburst of emotion. The young Brazilian has already been chastised by CART officials for celebrating in the same way after his Champ Car victories.

"I'm going to climb it tonight with him (Castroneves) when nobody can see me climb it," Penske said. "I promised him I will climb, but I don't know when I will do that."

A rain shower stopped racing on the 155th lap. Castroneves was the leader, followed by Buhl, de Ferran, Vasser and Stewart. At the time of the red flag, the race was five laps short of the 400-mile mark. But after the brief shower, the sun re-emerged, the track quickly dried and the race resumed.

Neither rain nor the differences between CART and the IRL have dampened the spirits of racing fans, who came out 400,000 strong for the world's most famous race.

Stewart took the lead on the 137th lap when the field pitted under caution following Cory Witherill's spin out of the fourth turn in front of traffic on lap 135. Amazingly, no other cars hit Witherill's sideways machine.

When the leaders pitted Castroneves and de Ferran both pulled out in the fast lane of traffic, forcing Stewart and Andretti to slow up. Race officials ordered the positions reversed, which put Stewart in the lead.

"It was a little busy down there in the pits getting in and out," Penske said. "I guess they put Stewart ahead of us just to make a race out of it. But I have to say that Brian Barnhart (the vice president of competition for the Indy Racing League) and his team of officials - outstanding. It was a great race and we'll be back."

The race restarted on lap 140 with Stewart ahead of Castroneves, de Ferran, Andretti and Buhl, who overtook de Ferran for third six laps later.

Andretti suffered a damaged front wing and car nose when he hit debris. When Donnie Beechler's engine blew up, the yellow flag waved. The leaders pitted on lap 149 and Castroneves was able to get out of the pits first. The race was red-flagged six laps later.

At the 300-mile mark, Team Penske was running 1-2 with de Ferran leading Castroneves. Andretti was third, followed by Stewart and Vasser. On lap 103, Andretti passed IRL driver Greg Ray for the lead. Ray brushed the wall after Andretti made the pass and the damage forced Ray to drop back.

Four laps later, rookie Jon Herb crashed to bring out another caution period. Andretti gave up the lead when he pitted two laps later. On lap 110, it began to sprinkle, which kept the cars running under the yellow flag.

The race was restarted on lap 119 with Ray in the pits. He was the halfway leader but again was denied his first Indianapolis 500 win. He finished 17th after starting second.

Mark Dismore was the leader when the yellow flag waved on lap 90 for debris. After Dismore exited a pit stop on lap 93, his car stalled on the track to continue the yellow.

"We put together some of the fastest race laps - it was too easy," Dismore said. "That's the thing - it was too easy. I guess today in a lot of ways, we were lucky, but I don't feel very lucky. I lift my hat to Roger Penske, but I think we could have done a lot for Tom Kelley.

"I think everyone is way past the CART/IRL thing. It's a bunch of guys driving race cars."

The race was marred by three crashes in the first 18 laps and allowed just one green flag lap during the first 23. There were nine lead changes through the first 100 laps. Sam Hornish Jr spun out of the fourth turn on the 18th lap and two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr tried to avoid him but crashed into the outside wall in the fourth turn to bring out the third yellow flag.

"It's not a white-line thing," said Unser, referring to the line painted at the apron of the race track that designates the portion of the track that is out of bounds. "It's just that we're not getting up to speed. These are the tyres we qualified on, so they have set for a couple of weeks. It's not a fact of a cold day; it's a fact that we needed to run some more laps. We didn't get our momentum going yet. That's what it boils down to."

Sarah Fisher touched the inside white line after nine laps and took out Scott Goodyear at the restart. Goodyear was admitted to Methodist Hospital suffering a fracture in his lower back. He will be released on Monday.

"It was really, really slick out there," Fisher said. "It's kind of cold. Everyone is having the same problem. This is the loosest I've been here at Indy. I was hanging on for dear life. There's absolutely no grip."

Goodyear was in pain, but is expected to recover.

"I'm a little sore, but other than that I don't feel bad," Goodyear said. "The car was sliding a little bit through the turns at the beginning, so I was just waiting to go except into the wall. I was very confident that we would have been there at the end of the race."

Pole-sitter Scott Sharp also was low on the track on the opening lap and lost control of his car after sliding on the white lane. Sharp became the first pole-sitter to crash on the opening lap since Roberto Guerrero in 1992.

"It snapped right out on me," Sharp said. "I thought I caught it, but I didn't. I can't say enough, I feel so bad for the people that worked so hard."

It was the second consecutive year that the pole winner of the Indianapolis 500 finished last. Ray started on the pole and finished 33rd last year.

Instead, it was team mates driving for the most successful team owner in Indianapolis 500 history that was able to battle it out for the victory.

"This was a big day," Penske said. "The 100th victory at Nazareth last year was a big day, but this one might go down in the record books."

Helio Castroneves Dallara-Oldsmobile 200 laps
Gil de Ferran Dallara-Oldsmobile +1.737s
Michael Andretti Dallara-Oldsmobile +5.7359s
Jimmy Vasser G Force-Oldsmobile +13.984s
Bruno Junquiera G Force-Oldsmobile +27.256s
Tony Stewart G Force-Oldsmobile +37.561s
Eliseo Salazar Dallara-Oldsmobile 1 lap
Airton Dare G Force-Oldsmobile 1 lap
Billy Boat Dallara-Oldsmobile 1 lap
Felipe Giaffone G Force-Oldsmobile 1 lap
Robby McGehee Dallara-Oldsmobile 1 lap
Buzz Calkins Dallara-Oldsmobile 2 laps
Aire Luyendyk G Force-Oldsmobile 2 laps
Sam Hornish Jr Dallara-Oldsmobile 4 laps
Robbie Buhl G Force-Infiniti 4 laps
Mark Dismore Dallara-Oldsmobile 5 laps
Greg Ray Dallara-Oldsmobile 8 laps
Buddy Lazier Dallara-Oldsmobile 8 laps
Cory Witherill G Force-Oldsmobile 13 laps
Jeret Schroeder Dallara-Oldsmobile 13 laps
Robby Gordon Dallara-Oldsmobile 16 laps
Jaques Lazier G Force-Oldsmobile 17 laps

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