The year isn't even half-over but there's already been enough excitement to fill a couple of years for Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves, who last month was acquitted of tax evasion charges, withdrew his first qualifying run and surged to the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 on his second attempt, giving himself an early birthday present.
Castroneves, who turns 34 on Sunday, ran a four-lap speed of 224.864 mph, nearly a mile faster than his first run and knocking Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe off the pole.
It was third career pole for Castroneves, and second in three years for the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and an emotional moment for one of the series' most high-strung drivers.
"Are you kidding, man? It's just incredible," Castroneves said. "Once again, I have to thank Roger (Penske) and (Tim) Cindric for believing in me and to be behind me all the way. This place is magic, man. I tell you, it's something that's just amazing."
Penske and Cindric, Team Penske President admitted withdrawing Castroneves' time was a risk like it was in 1995 when Penske scrubbed a qualifying run that would have put then driver Emerson Fittipaldi in the field. Fittipaldi would fail to qualify as a result, but Team Penske is known to take gambles.
Especially in the unusually cool and windy conditions at Indy that saw two potential qualifiers crash during their runs, Nelson Philippe and 2005 race winner Dan Wheldon. Both drivers failed to qualify and will have to wait to make their qualifying runs.
In addition, Dutch rookie Robert Doornbos crashed exiting Turn One and didn't make a qualifying attempt.
Castroneves said despite the cool conditions the cars worked perfectly.
"The cars were extremely strong," Castroneves said. "And we just have to continue working through the weather, working through the day and that's what we did.
In addition to Castroneves and Briscoe's one-two, the third Team Penske entrant, Will Power of Toowoomba, Australia, qualified ninth, giving Penske the luxury of planning out race setups and strategy and not worry about any more qualification runs.
Qualifying third was 2007 Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti.
Graham Rahal, son of the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, qualified fourth.
“We had our ups and downs this week, but this is a pretty good run for the McDonald’s car," Rahal said.
"With the wind the way it is, for us to have the McDonald’s car sitting where we are looks pretty good. On a windy day like this, getting the car in the show is the main goal. Last year this wind would have made me pretty nervous, but this year you just kind of go through the motions and get used to it."
Last year's Indy 500 and IRL Series champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand, qualified fifth.
Danica Patrick qualified for her fifth Indianapolis 500 in 10th place, equalling her worst starting position in the race since 2006.
Castroneves' pole was the 15th career pole at Indianapolis for Team Penske and also won him $100,000 in prize money.
"Well, we're excited," said Penske. "And I think to have Helio after his time off to come back and show everybody how good he really is, and it was a thrill for me and obviously for him and all the people who stood behind him over the last five or six months, especially, you know, to his family.
"I just want to personally congratulate him for a fantastic job."
Qualifying results for the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine and speed:
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 224.864
2. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 224.083
3. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 224.010
4. (02) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 223.954
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 223.867
6. (11T) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 223.612
7. (5) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 223.331
8. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 223.114
9. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 223.028
10. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 222.882
11. (99) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 222.622
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