'The old guys still got it:' 46-year-old Helio Castroneves wins a record-tying 4th Indianapolis 500
Helio Castroneves won a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 with a pass of Alex Palou entering Turn 1 on the penultimate lap on Sunday.
The win ties Castroneves with A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser for the most Indianapolis 500 wins and comes in Castroneves' only IndyCar start of the season so far.
Castroneves, 46, came back for another shot at the Indy 500 with Meyer-Shank Racing after he didn't return to the track with Team Penske. Castroneves had won each of his first three Indy 500s with Penske but left the team after it shut its IMSA sports car team down at the end of the 2020 season and Penske added a fourth full-time car for the 2021 IndyCar season.
That led Castroneves to drive for a different team at Indy for the first time ever in 2021. And it turned into a win as he swept to the outside of Palou on the next-to-last lap.
After he emerged from the cockpit, Castroneves climbed the fence like he had done after his previous 500 wins. Then he ran around the frontstretch and embraced nearly everyone he saw as he seemed to be overcome with a mixture of jubilation and disbelief that he had tied the record for most Indianapolis 500 wins.
Castroneves embraced his former Team Penske teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud and got a kiss on the top of the head by Mario Andretti. After he saw Andretti and embraced a few others, he then started jogging back down the frontstretch to where he left his car.
A win for the 'old guys'
Castroneves' win continued the trend of older athletes succeeding on sports' biggest stages in 2021. That wasn't lost on him. Castroneves mentioned Tom Brady's Super Bowl win and Phil Mickelson's win at the PGA unprompted during his victory lane interview.
"The old guys still got it, still kicking the young guys’ butt," Castroneves said with a laugh.
Castroneves is just short of being the oldest Indianapolis 500 winner. Unser became the oldest winner when he won his fourth Indy 500 in 1987 just days shy of his 48th birthday. Only Unser, Bobby Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi were older than Castroneves when they won Indy 500s.
The three other four-time champions were at Indianapolis on Sunday for the biggest sporting event since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Around 135,000 people were in attendance to watch Castroneves' record-tying win. And the cover art for the program for Sunday's race was drawn by three-time champion Johnny Rutherford and featured cars from Foyt, Mears and Unser.
Win was no fluke
Castroneves, Palou and Pato O'Ward had the fastest cars at the front of the field over the final half of the race. The three were inseparable over the race's last 50 laps and took over the top three spots with seven laps to go after Takuma Sato became the last driver on an alternate fuel strategy to pit.
Castroneves dove ahead of Palou entering Turn 1 with seven laps to go and Palou repaid the favor two laps later. Palou led for three laps until Castroneves got a run down the frontstretch and forced Palou to have to back off entering the corner.
Palou might have had a chance for a final pass if the drivers had open track ahead of them on the last lap. But the leaders came up on a big group of lapped cars going single-file ahead of the white flag. That group of cars gave Castroneves a tow and helped him keep his straightaway speed up. That likely snuffed out any chance that Palou had of getting a draft and making a run on Castroneves.
Will Castroneves race for a fifth Indy 500? It sure seems likely over the next few seasons. He showed Sunday that he's still an elite driver at the speedway. And there should be no shortage of teams willing to field a car for him in the next few seasons if Meyer Shank Racing somehow decides that this was a one-and-done Indy 500 for Castroneves with the team.
Fastest Indy 500 ever
Entering Sunday's race, the record for fewest cautions in an Indy 500 was four and tied multiple times. Sunday's race halved that mark with just two caution flags.
The two cautions meant that the average speed of Sunday's race was faster than any of the 104 previous Indianapolis 500s. And one of those cautions changed the complexion of the race before the first quarter of it was even complete.
How Stefan Wilson's pit road wreck ruined Scott Dixon and Alex Rossi's day
Stefan Wilson expressed his displeasure at BetMGM early Sunday morning after he noticed that he wasn't listed on the book's board to win the race.
Hey @BetMGM, apparently you can bet on 32 of the 33 drivers but you can’t bet on me!?!? 🤷♂️ come on! #IndyCar #Indy500
— Stefan Wilson (@stef_wilson) May 30, 2021
Well, maybe BetMGM knew what it was doing. Wilson caused the first caution of the day when he wrecked his car while slowing down to get on pit road during the race's first green-flag pit stop cycle.
That screwed up Wilson's day. He finished last because he broke the front suspension on his car when he hit the wall. And it screwed up the days of Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, too.
Since Wilson's crash came during a pit stop cycle, some drivers hadn't pitted before he crashed. And since Wilson crashed on pit road, pit road was closed to retrieve his car.
That closure meant that drivers who hadn't pitted yet were forced to wait even longer to pit. That wait was too long for both Rossi and Dixon as they had to make a quick stop for fuel before pit road was open and they could get tires.
Dixon's car also stalled out. Both drivers ended up going a lap down and saw their chances at a win disappear.
Dixon was the pole-sitter and entered the race as the betting favorite. He fought his way back to 17th thanks to a clever pit strategy and salvaged what could have been a terrible points day.
Rossi's day did not get salvaged. He ended up finishing 29th and ended up two laps down.
Graham Rahal's scary crash
Graham Rahal looked like he was in the best position of anyone as the race entered its second half. But that disappeared when his team didn't get all four wheels tight on his car after a pit stop.
Rahal had a fast car and a pit strategy that saw him pitting later than every other driver at the front of the field. That could have led to one fewer pit stop at the end of the race or, at worst, a shorter pit stop than everyone else.
But as Rahal drove out of the pits with just over 80 laps to go, he left the pits without all four wheels secured to the car. The left-rear wheel came off the car as Rahal accelerated back onto the track and his car went careening into the wall.
Thankfully, Rahal didn't hit anyone else before he hit the wall. But his loose wheel did hit the nose of Conor Daly's car as it bounced down the track following the wreck.
Rahal ended the race in 32nd, just one spot ahead of Wilson. They were the only two drivers who failed to finish the race.
1. Helio Castroneves
2. Alex Palou
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Pato O’Ward
5. Ed Carpenter
6. Santino Ferrucci
7. Sage Karam
8. Rinus VeeKay
9. Juan Pablo Montoya
10. Tony Kanaan
11. Marcus Ericsson
12. Josef Newgarden
13. Conor Daly
14. Takuma Sato
15. JR Hildebrand
16. Colton Herta
17. Scott Dixon
18. Jack Harvey
19. Marco Andretti
20. Scott McLaughlin
21. James Hinchcliffe
22. Ryan Hunter-Reay
23. Dalton Kellett
24. Max Chilton
25. Pietro Fittipaldi
26. Sebastien Bourdais
27. Felix Rosenqvist
28. Ed Jones
29. Alexander Rossi
30. Will Power
31. Simona De Silvestro
32. Graham Rahal
33. Stefan Wilson
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