Commentary

Castroneves wins third Indy 500

Updated: May 24, 2009, 10:39 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS

All times Eastern

4:39 p.m.

Helio Castroneves climbed the fence again.

The Team Penske driver became the sixth driver to win three Indianapolis 500 titles Sunday, holding off Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick.

Castroneves was acquitted in April of federal tax evasion charges (a final conspiracy charge was dropped Friday), then in May turned in as perfect a month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a driver and team could have. The No. 3 car won the pole position, the pit-stop challenge and the race -- Penske Racing's 15th triumph at the Brickyard.

4:23 p.m.

An already wild day for Vitor Meira ended with one final sideways-and-backward trip atop the Turn 1 wall on Lap 173.

Fellow Brazilian Raphael Matos, who ran as high as fourth in his first Indy 500 with Luczo Dragon Racing, got together with Meira at the end of the frontstretch, and both went into the wall. Meira's No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing car snapped upward, turned around and then rode the wall for some 400 yards facing the wrong direction.

Meira, whose Dallara-Honda was on fire in the pits some 40 laps earlier, was removed from the car and put on a stretcher by the safety team. The Turn 1 wall needed repairs, and the caution continued through Lap 180.

Briscoe pitted on Lap 180 for fuel and returned to the track in 16th place. The top five under caution were Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick, Will Power and Townsend Bell.

Tony KanaanAP Photo/Kurt BauerFan favorite Tony Kanaan after his fiery crash on Lap 97: "I went for a wild ride."

4:08 p.m.

With 33 laps left, the Team Penske duo is running 1-2. Two-time winner Helio Castroneves leads and Ryan Briscoe runs second, having gained six spots on pit road with a short-fuel stop.

The third Penske car, driven by Australian Will Power, fell back four spots to sixth after the right-rear tire-changer had problems.

In between the Penske posse is 2005 champion Dan Wheldon, running third and not hiding from anyone in his camouflage Panther Racing car, and Danica Patrick. Patrick is fourth with a chance to improve on her career-best fourth in 2005.

3:46 p.m.

Fuel issues plagued two teams on a Lap 134 stop.

Vitor Meira had the scariest moment as a fire engulfed his No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing car during a refuel; his pit crew quickly put out the flames by soaking the car -- and the driver -- with water. Still, he continued on the lead lap in 20th place.

Franchitti had a less scary moment but one that hurt his chances for a second 500 win. He attempted to leave the pits before the fuel line was removed and had to be backed into his stall, costing several spots. He faded to 12th after a bad restart on Lap 141.

On that restart, Helio Castroneves blew by Scott Dixon to take the lead for the first time since the race's opening laps.

3:32 p.m.

Samantha Lloyd wins the unofficial title of Race Wife of the Year.

With 75 laps to go and her husband, Alex, running 22nd and one lap down, the pregnant Lloyd reported to ESPN's Jamie Little that her contractions were running about 10 minutes apart but, no, she would not be leaving pit lane and going to the hospital before the end of the race.

Alex Lloyd generated attention all month with his hot pink driver's suit and car, sponsored by HER energy drink. The driver said he would run the race no matter what, so one might say he put HER before her.

No matter. Mrs. Lloyd made her own choice and is staying put.

3:14 p.m.

Another 500, another heartbreak for Tony Kanaan.

The fan favorite crashed out on Lap 97 while running third, wrecking hard in the backstretch and then the Turn 3 wall. Something appeared to break on his No. 11 car -- possibly a driveshaft -- while in the straight, after which he sailed through the turn and hard into the SAFER barrier.

"I went for a wild ride," Kanaan said on the broadcast. "At this point [after the first impact], I rested my head on my headrest and closed my eyes, I knew it was going to be a big one. It looks like I just got beat up big-time."

It was the first time in eight races the Brazilian failed to lead a lap. His feat of laps led in seven consecutive 500s was a record.

In 2004, Kanaan finished second to Buddy Rice in a rain-shortened 500. In 2005, he sat on the pole but finished eighth. Last year was his worst finish, 29th, when teammate Marco Andretti took the air off his car while passing on Lap 105 and sent Kanaan into a crash.

2:47 p.m.

It's still a red-and-white show 85 laps in, but at the moment, only Target Chip Ganassi Racing's duo is up front.

Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe had to pit off-sequence on Lap 65 after falling back to eighth on a restart one lap earlier and complaining of lack of grip in his tires. Pole sitter Helio Castroneves fell out of the lead group, too, as far down as sixth before moving up to fourth during a caution for a crash by Davey Hamilton.

Dario Franchitti and teammate Scott Dixon, the past two 500 champs and IndyCar Series champs, pace the field with Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan in third.

Raphael Matos is a surprise contender in fifth. He's a rookie driving for Luczo Dragon Racing, a satellite Penske organization run by Roger's son Jay Penske.

Will Power, driving a third car for Team Penske, is sixth and Danica Patrick is seventh.

Indy FansAP Photo/Darron CummingsAnxious race fans plant one on the yard of bricks that extend to the Speedway's start/finish line.

2:21 p.m.

For the second consecutive year, Graham Rahal's Indy 500 ended in Turn 4.

The 20-year-old son of 1986 champion Bobby Rahal crashed on Lap 56, moving too high in the turn to get around Milka Duno. He hit the wall hard with the right side of the Newman/Haas/Lanigan No. 02, which started the race fourth.

Last year, Rahal finished 33rd as a rookie after crashing in Turn 4 after 36 laps.

Bad news for NHL started five laps before that when Robert Doornbos brushed the wall and did enough damage to end his rookie run in the 500.

Ryan Briscoe was in the lead at the time of Rahal's caution and kept the lead coming off yellow-flag pit stops.

If you're wondering how the race's three women are doing, Danica Patrick leads the way in eighth. Sarah Fisher is up to 17th after starting 21st, and Milka Duno is one lap down in 25th.

* * *

The King is supposedly on his way out of Indianapolis. John Andretti, running 23rd, didn't show enough on the track to keep Richard Petty around.

1:46 p.m.

Second caution, Lap 21. Ryan Hunter-Reay got high out of the groove in Turn 4, smacked the SAFER barrier and rebounded into the inside wall. He slid into pit road.

Hunter-Reay, of Vision Racing, qualified for the race as the gun went off last Sunday on Bump Day, claiming the 33rd and final starting spot.

The field pitted en masse after Hunter-Reay's crash. Dario Franchitti remained in the lead, while Ryan Briscoe came out in second ahead of Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

1:37 p.m.

Fifteen laps in, the procession has begun with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske claiming the top four spots.

2007 champion Dario Franchitti, who started third, took the lead from pole sitter Helio Castroneves shortly after the race returned to green on Lap 7. Castroneves holds second, Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe is third and 2008 champion Scott Dixon is fourth for Ganassi.

Ganassi and Penske cars have won eight of the past nine 500s.

Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan is fifth, two seconds off the lead and the best car that isn't red and white.

* * *

Looks like a very healthy crowd for the 93rd running. Some sparse pockets of seating can be found at the start of the pit-lane grandstands and in the corner of the south end of the Turn 3 grandstand, but everything else is full.

1:24 p.m.

One lap in, Andretti luck has struck again.

It didn't appear to be Marco Andretti's fault when Mario Moraes came down on him in Turn 2, but at any rate, the speedy 20-year-old Brazilian and the 22-year-old grandson of 1969 winner Mario Andretti are done. Both were third-row starters.

It happened on the second start of the race; a first start was waved off when it appeared that pole sitter Helio Castroneves jumped early. The second start was clean for one turn, then a crash.

"The kid doesn't get it, he never will," Andretti said on TV of Moraes. "You'd think somebody would know that somebody's sitting right down outside you. He's clueless out there. I guess the warning should have been who I'm racing against."

Moraes countered, "I was in the front, holding my line."

Marco Andretti finished second as a rookie in 2006, passed by Sam Hornish Jr. just before the checkered flag. Then, in 2007, he went airborne in a late crash.

Father Michael never won the 500, though he had many close calls.

1:22 p.m.

In case you haven't noticed, there is no such thing anymore at Indy as the three-wide start. Doesn't happen.

Yes, they line up three wide in 11 rows on the starting grid, but the IRL purposefully has the cars spread out before the green flag falls. It makes the start safer, but far less exciting than it was years ago.

-- Terry Blount

[+] EnlargeJim Nabors
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIt wouldn't be an Indy 500 without Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana."

1:08 p.m.

Jim Nabors just sang "Back Home Again in Indiana," one of those timeless 500 traditions. It's hard to believe he has performed it for only one-third of the 500s -- today's 93rd running is his 31st time singing.

The first time he sang the song, in 1972, he wrote the lyrics on his hand just to be safe.

"I didn't even know what the intro was going to be or if it was in my key or whatever, you know? You never know. They can really get you there. It was pretty exciting, and I really enjoyed it," Nabors said in a statement. The singer isn't from Indiana. He was born in Alabama and lives in Hawaii.

***

Actor Josh Duhamel, who appeared in the "Transformers" movie and television's "Las Vegas," is driving the 2009 Chevrolet Camaro pace car to the green flag.

Nothing against Duhamel, but wouldn't Mario Andretti have been a good choice for the job, on his 40th anniversary of his 1969 Indy win?

Maybe IndyCar Series officials worried about whether Andretti would give up the wheel to Johnny Rutherford, the three-time 500 champion and regular driver of the pace car at every IndyCar race.

12:23 p.m.

The cars are on the grid. First big cheers rising from the grandstands are for the military caravan around the 2.5-mile oval.

On the frontstretch, there's a lot of attention around the car on the inside of Row 10. You understand the commotion once you see the familiar cowboy hat -- Richard Petty. He's at the Speedway for the second time (last year's race was his first) and first time as an owner. He has a piece of the No. 43 Window World car driven by John Andretti and operated by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

"We want to run all day and not have any trouble, and we'll do pretty good. I don't think [Andretti's] going to run up there and pass everybody, but if everything follows the way we want, he can run in the top 10 with no trouble," Petty said in a press release.

It will take more than that to get Petty to stay in town late into the afternoon. His plane is likely to head south for Charlotte around 2 p.m. for NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.

12:08 p.m.

The official start time for today's race is 1:11 p.m.

And if you're making plans to attend the Indy 500 in 2010, put a big "X" on May 30.

11:21 a.m.

Forecasts look good for this 500 to get in without rain.

Scattered showers are in the forecast, but there's only a 30 percent chance of rain, and that's not projected until midafternoon, when the race should be past the halfway point. Temperatures will be around 80-82 degrees.

Two of the past five races have been rain-shortened, most recently in 2007, when Dario Franchitti took the checkered flag under caution after 166 laps. The enduring picture of that finish was wife Ashley Judd running to Victory Lane in the downpour, soaked to the bone and barefoot.

If Dario wins this year -- one could call it a successful title defense of sorts, as he didn't race last year while in NASCAR -- Judd should be dry. Not sure about the shoes.

11:04 a.m.

"How long did it take you to get here?"

That's a popular pregame conversation at any big sporting event, but at the Indianapolis 500, it's a measuring stick. Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials never release attendance figures, so the two best ways to guesstimate the crowds are eyeballing the grandstands (check back later) and asking friends how long it took to get here.

For those who left in the 6-7 a.m. range, 2½-hour commute stories are numerous. "Worst since the (CART-IRL) split," some are saying, which is the best news for IMS.

***

Heavy traffic is a good sign that the casual fans are returning to the 500. The die-hard fans are always here, and for many, the race itself is secondary to the race-day experience. They have been coming for decades, baptized by parents who went and whose parents' parents went.

Walking around the Pagoda Plaza and surrounding areas this morning, it's striking how few fans wear T-shirts or hats supporting a favorite IndyCar Series driver. If they are wearing racing garb, chances are it's an IMS shirt or hat. They support the Speedway -- a tremendous source of local pride -- and the event just as much as or more than the IndyCar Series.

Compare that with the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard crowd, where nearly every fan has a favorite driver and the apparel to match. Native son Tony Stewart, adopted native son Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the favorites.

Take a poll today, and chances are the favorite IRL drivers would be Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Sarah Fisher. It just may not be immediately evident on fans' clothing.

***

Then again, in this economy, a large number of fans may be choosing which Speedway event to attend this year. Word around town is that the Brickyard 400, after last year's Goodyear tire debacle, has fallen out of favor with the ticket-buying public.

So perhaps, if they're choosing one race this season, it's the 500. We'll know the answer to that question better in late July.

John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.