The Helio Castroneves tax evasion trial began on Monday in Miami, which I am sure many of you did not realize unless you are truly an IndyCar fanatic. After all, the only time the series gets any mainstream attention is when Danica Patrick is exploiting her sex appeal to keep a ride/showing off a tramp stamp in SI or when Castroneves is dancing. Partially blame Tony George and his goons for not getting his other top drivers more exposure for their on-track accomplishments.
If found guilty, it could send the popular Indy 500 winner to the slammer for a while (ah America...where an ordinary person goes to jail for not paying Uncle Sam their due, but half of the Obama Cabinet gets away with it). Star witnesses scheduled to make an appearance include Roger Penske and Jimmie Johnson. I don't know why Johnson will be testifying, while it is obvious that Penske, as Castroneves' boss, can shed some light on his employee's character.
From what I've seen released by various media outlets, the trial could last up to six weeks. The 2009 IndyCar season begins in four and a half weeks on the streets of St. Petersburg after an offseason that has seemingly lasted an eternity (that is a story for another time and place, but at least give the IRL credit for stretching the season out a few more weeks in 2009). A couple months back, Penske announced Aussie Will Power will stand in for Castroneves should Helio: a. not be cleared yet or b. found guilty. Once the case is dismissed, Castroneves would climb back aboard the #3 Penske Dallara Honda. So even if the charismatic Brazilian is found innocent on all charges, getting him back behind the wheel for the start of the season and a run at his first IRL championship will be a challenging proposition.
I seriously hope Helio is found innocent, because I believe he is a great guy. But if he knowingly did not pay the proper taxes on income that was allegedly diverted to offshore accounts, then he should be sent to prison (my overall negative opinion of the American tax system aside, we all still have to follow the same rules). Remember Wesley Snipes some time back? Another high profile, high tax burden citizen who happened to not pay up. Willie Mays Hayes got three years out of that transgression.
In the scenario that Castroneves is able to come back at some point this season, I wonder what Penske will do with Power? Will had some strong runs in his first IRL campaign a year ago, including a fifth at Chicago to close out the regular season. And he's not an oval guy at heart. I think the Captain will be hard pressed to let Power walk, especially if he performs well in whatever races he may get to run. If this were March 2008 and not March 2009, we would probably be hearing the get rid of Ryan Briscoe chants from many Team Penske supporters, but after a sluggish start, Briscoe was a surprise in the second Penske car a year ago. I think he is safe for the time being, unless he completely tanks early in 2009.
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