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Castroneves goes from tax audit to Indy 500 win

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The tears flowed as soon as Helio Castroneves turned his red-and-white car into Victory Lane, and he really got emotional when Roger Penske leaned over to give his driver a hug.

‘‘Thanks for giving my life back,’’ Castroneves said between sobs.

He could’ve lost it all. He could’ve gone to prison for six years. Instead, he was celebrating another win at the Indianapolis 500.

Castroneves capped a perfect month of May by winning at the Brickyard for the third time Sunday, a triumph that was especially poignant given what he was facing just 5 1/2 weeks ago.

From accused tax cheat to Indy champion — this race was a lot longer than 500 miles.

‘‘Let’s celebrate now!’’ he screamed to the quarter of a million fans.

Castroneves became the ninth driver to win the historic race three times, and his timing couldn’t have been better. On April 17, he was acquitted of most charges at a federal tax evasion trial, and the remaining count was finally thrown out last Friday.

‘‘This is the best month of May ever,’’ Castroneves said, and it was hard to argue otherwise.

He won the pole. Then he won the pit-stop competition. And now, the biggest win of all, No. 3 for the guy who drives car No. 3, leaving him only one win away from joining the most elite group of all: four-time Indy winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

For Penske, it was Indy win No. 15 — more than any other car owner and ensuring that the Captain has never gone more than three years between wins at this place, except for the time he didn’t run because of a split in open-wheel racing.

‘‘He smiles only two times: on his birthday and when he wins the Indy 500,’’ Castroneves said of his boss.

Castroneves pulled away over the final laps to beat Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick, who eclipsed her historic fourth-place finish as a rookie in 2005 by crossing the strip of bricks in third.

IRL-Indy 500 Results

Sunday

At Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis

Lap length: 2.5 miles

(Start position in parentheses; all cars Dallara chassis, Honda engine)

1. (1) Helio Castroneves, 200 laps.

2. (18) Dan Wheldon, 200.

3. (10) Danica Patrick, 200.

4. (24) Townsend Bell, 200.

5. (9) Will Power, 200.

6. (5) Scott Dixon, 200.

7. (3) Dario Franchitti, 200.

8. (17) Ed Carpenter, 200.

9. (13) Paul Tracy, 200.

10. (16) Hideki Mutoh, 200.

11. (33) Alex Tagliani, 200.

12. (26) Tomas Scheckter, 200.

13. (11) Alex Lloyd, 200.

14. (20) Scott Sharp, 200.

15. (2) Ryan Briscoe, 200.

16. (19) A.J. Foyt IV, 200.

17. (21) Sarah Fisher, 200.

18. (27) Mike Conway, 200.

19. (28) John Andretti, 200.

20. (30) Milka Duno, 199.

21. (14) Vitor Meira, 173, contact.

22. (12) Raphael Matos, 173, contact.

23. (15) Justin Wilson, 160, contact.

24. (29) E.J. Viso, 139, mechanical.

25. (31) Nelson Philippe, 130, contact.

26. (25) Oriol Servia, 98, mechanical.

27. (6) Tony Kanaan, 97, contact.

28. (23) Robert Doornbos, 85, contact.

29. (22) Davey Hamilton, 79, contact.

30. (8) Marco Andretti, 56, handling.

31. (4) Graham Rahal, 55, contact.

32. (32) Ryan Hunter-Reay, 19, contact.

33. (7) Mario Moraes, 0, contact.

Winner’s average speed: 150.318 mph.

Time of race: 3:19:34.6427.

Margin of victory: 1.9819 seconds.

Cautions: 8 for 61 laps.

Lead changes: 6 among 4 drivers.

Lap leaders: Castroneves 1-7, Franchitti 8-52, Briscoe 53-63, Dixon 64-85, Franchitti 86-90, Dixon 91-141, Castroneves 142-200.

Point standings: 1, Franchitti, 122. 2, Castroneves, 117. 3, Briscoe, 114. 4, Dixon, 111. 5, Kanaan, 110. 6, Patrick, 109. 7, Wheldon, 106. 8, Power, 99. 9, Hunter-Reay, 84. 10, Andretti, 83.