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.
When the leaders pitted on lap 137, Castroneves and de Ferran both pulled out in the fast lane of traffic, which caused Stewart and Andretti to slow up. Race officials ordered the positions reversed, which put Stewart in the lead because both Penske drivers had impeded traffic out of the pits.
The race restarted on lap 140 with Stewart ahead of Castroneves, de Ferran, Andretti and Buhl. Six laps later, Buhl passed de Ferran for third. Andretti suffered a damaged front wing and nose of the car when he hit debris, so 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 CART driver Jimmy Vasser.
Earlier, on lap 103, Andretti passed Greg Ray for the lead. Ray brushed the wall after Andretti made the pass and the damage caused Ray to drop back in the field.
Four laps later, rookie Jon Herb crashed to bring out another caution period. Two laps later, Andretti gave up the lead when he pitted. On lap 110, it began to sprinkle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which kept the cars running under the yellow flag.
The race was restarted on lap 119 with Ray in the pits. Ray was hoping to win the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in his career and was the leader of the Indianapolis 500 at the halfway point.
The race was marred by three crashes in the first 18 laps Sunday. Through the first 100 laps, the lead had changed hands nine times.
Mark Dismore was the leader when the yellow flag waved on lap 90 for debris. After Dismore made a pit stop on lap 93, his car stopped on the track on the 94th lap to continue the yellow.
The green flag waved on lap 97 with Ray ahead of Andretti, de Ferran, Buhl and Robby Gordon.
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 the spinning car. He crashed into the outside wall in the fourth turn to bring out the third yellow flag.
There was only one green flag lap out of the first 23 laps.
The initial green flag waved under cloudy skies and cool weather after heavy rains have plagued the central Indiana area for most of the week.