Helio Castroneves proved the Indianapolis 500 still belongs to Roger Penske.
The Indy rookie led teammate and fellow Brazilian Gil de Ferran in a 1-2 Penske finish, giving The Captain a triumphant return today to the 500-mile race. "It's the best of my life, redeeming myself like this," said Penske, following a record 11th victory at Indy after failing to put any drivers in the race in 1995 and a five-year boycott by Championship Auto Racing Teams.
The 26-year-old Castroneves celebrated by demonstrating for fans why he is known as "Spiderman" on the CART circuit. He stopped his red and white car near the finish line after a cool-down lap, jumped up the steel-mesh fence, pumped his fist and signaled for his team to join him. They did. Marlboro Team Penske raced across the track, climbed the short concrete wall and scaled the fence, to the delight of the Indy crowd. De Ferran, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and rookie Bruno Junqueira took the top five positions, making it a tough day for the rival Indy Racing League, which considers Indy its centerpiece.
Tony Stewart, attempting to race in the 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., on the same day for the second time in three years, led for a while and wound up sixth — the last car on the lead lap.
Despite seven cautions and a 16-minute red flag for rain, he finished with enough time to get to the other race.
Indy got off to a shaky start when pole-winner Scott Sharp lost control on cold, slick tires and crashed on the first turn of the first of 200 laps.
The green flag came out again on lap seven. But one lap later, Sarah Fisher, the only woman in the 33-car field, crashed in the second turn under circumstances similar to Sharp's. She hit the wall and took out Scott Goodyear's car.
Goodyear, a two-time runner-up, was in good condition at Methodist Hospital with a fractured lower back, the only injury of the race.
It was the second year in a row an Indianapolis 500 rookie has won the race. Juan Montoya, another CART driver at the time who is now in Formula One, won last year's race. He was the eighth rookie to win the Indy 500.
Ray Harroun was the first winner in 1911. The others were Jules Goux in 1913, Rene Thomas 1914, Frank Lockhart in 1926, George Sounders in 1927 and Graham Hill in 1966.
In the closing 100 miles of the race, the IRL's best hope was Robbie Buhl, who was running in second place 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.
The leaders pitted on lap 168 and the race was restarted on lap 172 with Castroneves in front of de Ferran and Michael Andretti.
Earlier, a rain shower stopped the Indianapolis 500 on the 155th lap of the 200-lap race. Castroneves was the leader followed by Buhl, de Ferran, Vasser and Tony 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 came out, the track was quickly dried and the race resumed.
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.