When Helio Castroneves’ legal troubles first surfaced last fall, many people wondered about the driver’s future at Team Penske. But Roger Penske, the sport’s most successful owner, never wavered in his support.
When Helio Castroneves’ legal troubles first surfaced last fall, many people wondered about the driver’s future at Team Penske.
But Roger Penske, the sport’s most successful owner, never wavered in his support.
“We never, ever were going to leave his side,” Penske said Sunday after winning his 15th Indianapolis 500 as an owner. “I think the payoff was today not only for him but for everybody else on this team that never blinked an eye.”
Penske said he and Castroneves were in touch nearly every day through the ordeal.
“The big question was, what was going to be the final answer,” Penske said. “We originally talked about it terms of a race — how many seconds ahead, how many seconds behind. But we told him, we will stay with you until the final answer.”
Penske asked Will Power to fill in for Castroneves during the trial but brought his original driver back immediately after the verdict. Power was back with the team in the 500 and finished fifth.
“I guess I had so much faith that Helio hadn’t done anything wrong,” Penske said. “And the final answer was exactly what I thought it would be.”
Tony Kanaan’s miserable luck at Indianapolis continued Sunday.
Kanaan was running in the top 10 on lap 97 when his car suddenly snapped right and hit the SAFER barrier hard. The car then continued down the track -- with him a helpless passenger -- before slamming the wall a second time.
Between hits, Kanaan said, “I just rested my head on my headrest and closed my eyes. I knew it was going to be a big one.”
Kanaan praised his crew and his trainer for making both him and the car strong enough to handle such a brutal crash.
“And thanks to the safety team because the car hit at 190 mph and I’m standing here talking,” he said.
But it was a difficult end for the driver who has been competitive in each of the seven 500 he has run but has failed to win.
“Me and this place, one more time,” he said.
One driver who had a worse day than Kanaan was Vitor Meira.
On lap 134, his car was enveloped in flames after problem with the fuel hose. Meira stayed in the car, tucking his head and closing his visor, as water was poured on him and the flames.
He exited the pits and didn’t even lose a lap.
Things got worse 40 laps later when his car and the car of Raphael Matos collided, sending Meira’s head first into the wall. Meira’s car then flipped up, catching its left-side tires on the top of the SAFER barrier, and ran sideways along the wall, backwards and at a 90-degree angle to the track — something like a Hot Wheels car on its side.
Meira was taken to Methodist Hospital where he was diagnosed with fractures of the lumbar 1 and 2 vertebrae. Racing orthopedic specialist Dr. Terry Trammel doesn’t expect the injury to require surgery and Meira is able to move all his limbs.
Paul Tracy, who hadn’t raced at the Speedway since he thought he won the 2002 race, finished ninth Sunday.
He ran in the top 10 most of the day but didn’t lead a lap and never was really in serious contention for the win.
“It was great to run with the top 10 guys all day but, you know, I just wish we did a little bit better,” he said. “The end result was not what we wanted, but it was good to be back out there.”
Marco Andretti and Mario Moraes had a very short day — neither made it out of Turn 2 on the first lap.
Each blamed the other.
“I don’t know what Marco was doing there,” Moraes said. “That lap was the first.”
Said Andretti: “It’s totally disappointing. I’m sitting next to him, and he just drives up into me. There was no one in sight of him. I should have known better.”
Andretti’s cousin, John, finished 19th driving for Richard Petty.
Graham Rahal also had a short day and he blamed Milka Duno for his Turn 4 contact.
“Basically, Milka got in front of me and she was absolutely clueless,” he said. “She would go low like she was going to let everybody by, but then she’d go fast enough where you can’t get by her. I’m really upset and disappointed.”
Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.