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AUTO RACING

Good company: Helio Castroneves wins Indy 500 for 4th time

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INDIANAPOLIS — Written off as too old to race full-time, too old for a fourth Indianapolis 500 win, Helio Castroneves at long last joined that exclusive club in a popular victory for the old guys.

Then Spiderman scaled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fence for his trademark victory celebration at the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

Castroneves wasn’t done yet.

At 46 and one of the oldest drivers in the field, he sprinted along the frontstretch of the speedway for a victory lap without a car for the 135,000 fans in attendance. He pumped his arms in the air and waved to the ecstatic crowd, his explosion of emotional energy stopped every few feet by a flood of rivals who rushed onto the track to congratulate Castroneves.

Almost every member of Team Penske rushed out to meet Castroneves, including former teammate Will Power, who saw the final scoring pylon and had no idea his longtime friend won.

“I was looking up and down ‘Who is the 06?’” Power told Castroneves in a victory hug. “You’re a legend.”

Castroneves became the fourth-oldest winner in Indianapolis 500 history, behind Al Unser (47, 1987), Bobby Unser (47, 1981) and Emerson Fittipaldi (46, 1993).

Castroneves spent more than two decades driving for Team Penske and won three Indy 500s with the team. But he was eventually phased over to the sports car program, where he won the IMSA championship last season before Roger Penske shuttered the team and made the business decision to cut Castroneves loose.

Spiderman insisted he was not done racing yet and Michael Shank agreed.

He hired Castroneves for the Indy 500 to complement the one-car Meyer Shank Racing team. Maybe Castroneves would have a shot to win, but he’d also boost a team that needed some veteran leadership at one of the most challenging tracks in the world.

Castroneves had been trying since 2009 to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, his former mentor at Team Penske, as the only four-time winners of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Mears was the last driver to join the club in 1991.

“I love Indianapolis! You guys don’t understand it! The fans, you give me energy,” Castroneves said.

Castroneves was also part of the winning Rolex 24 Daytona sports car team in January, taking the prestigious sports car event for the first time.

“I’ve run two races this year and won two races, I’d say that’s pretty good,” said Castroneves, who noted this might be the year for aging veterans.

“I don’t know if this is a good comparison, but Tom Brady won the Super Bowl and Phil Mickelson won the golf so here you go. The older guys are still kicking the younger guys’ butts.”

Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, capped his first season with Tampa Bay by leading the Bucs to their first championship in 18 years at 43 years old. Mickelson at 50 became the oldest major winner last week.

Castroneves’ win was a stark contrast to the recent theme of young drivers taking over IndyCar, which now has six different winners through six races this season. Three of them have been first-time winners and four are drivers aged 24 or younger.

Castroneves found himself in a closing duel with one of the young stars, 24-year-old Spaniard Alex Palou, but he passed Palou for good with two laps remaining and beat him by 0.4928 seconds for the victory.

When he finally made it to the real victory lane — after a kiss from Mario Andretti, a hug from Johnny Rutherford, well wishes from just about every Indy 500 great — Castroneves sipped from his bottle of 2% milk and then dumped the rest over his head.

When he climbed into the back of a convertible for his true victory lap around the 2.5-mile speedway, most of the fans were still in the stands cheering Castroneves.

Former Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indy winner, was third, followed by Pato O’Ward, the 21-year-old budding IndyCar star.

A year ago, no fans were allowed for the race that was delayed from May to August. This year, celebrities were back and fans were everywhere and they were treated to a win by one of the most popular drivers in Indy 500 history.

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