Brazilian rookie Helio Castroneves made Roger Penske's return to Indy a sweet one
Roger Penske was on the schneid in late May. He had gone six years without one of his cars appearing in the Indy 500—a nightmare year in 1995, when his two cars failed to qualify, followed by a five-year absence because most CART car owners boycotted the race in a dispute with the rival IRL. However, Chip Ganassi's return to Indy last year and his win with rookie driver Juan Montoya enticed other CART owners, including Penske, to race at the Brickyard this year. "Roger pushed the whole month [before the race]," says Gil de Ferran, who drives for Penske. "To get cars built, to get engines built, pushing, pushing, pushing." When Brazil's Helio Castroneves won the race on Sunday, finishing 1.7 seconds ahead of de Ferran to give Penske a one-two showing, the pushing paid off.
Penske wasn't the only big name to return to Indy. CART driver Michael Andretti finished third in his first race at the Brickyard since 1995. The CART boycott had been especially tough on the 38-year-old Andretti, who has one of the longest lists of near misses in Indy history. "Five really good years in the prime of my career to win this thing, and they were taken from me," he said on Saturday. "Last year was the worst. I was watching the race, and I thought, What's going on? If Juan can be there, why can't we? I was upset because I really pushed hard to make it happen with [owner] Carl Haas, but he didn't want to know about it."
After last season Andretti and Haas split up, and Andretti joined Barry Green, who was amenable to a Brickyard effort. Andretti led for 16 laps on Sunday, giving him 398 laps led in his Brickyard career, the most of any driver without a win. Still, it was Castroneves who led at the end, marking the first time since 1926 and '27 that rookie drivers had won at Indy in successive years.
Castroneves, 26, is known as Spiderman because he has a penchant for climbing trackside fences following his victory. At Indy he invited his crew to join him in his Peter Parker impersonation. They all did, except Penske, who was in a more reflective mood. "It's the best day of my life, redeeming myself like this," Penske said.
The win might have officially belonged to the guy scaling the fence, but looking at Penske, you couldn't help but feel that this one was his.
Chip Ganassi's Day
Six Cars and a Ton of Cash
On Sunday morning Chip Ganassi found something rare for a man spending the weekend in a hotel with his wife and four-year-old daughter: time to himself. He woke at six, and as his family slept, he made a cup of coffee and savored the peace and quiet. Combining serenity with caffeine wasn't a bad idea. The day ahead promised to be long and hectic.
Four of Ganassi's cars would run in the Indy 500, and two others would race in the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 that night in Concord, N.C. Ganassi had planned to run only two cars at Indy, with rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian driving. But after CART canceled two of its first three oval races, Ganassi sought more experienced drivers.
His choices were Tony Stewart, a Hoosier with a serious Indy 500 Jones, and Jimmy Vasser, who had driven for Ganassi for six colorful years. In June 1999 Vasser said of his boss at the time, "There is no I in team, but there is in Chip." In August 2000 Ganassi released Vasser. The two rarely mince words, which explains why they still get along.