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Emotional Castroneves grabs hat-trick

POLE-SITTER Helio Castroneves captured his third Indy 500 on Sunday to give team owner Roger Penske a record 15th trip to Victory Lane.

The win capped a stunning return to the famed Brickyard by the charismatic Brazilian, who was driving in just his third race after being cleared of tax evasion charges which could have landed him a lengthy prison sentence.

A back-to-back winner in 2001 and 2002, Castroneves is only the sixth driver, and the first foreign-born, with a hat-trick of 500 wins. With one more victory, he can join Indy greats A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners.

Retaking the lead on lap 142 from defending champion Scott Dixon, Castroneves pulled away from the field for an unchallenged victory and punched the air with his right fist as he shot across the finish line.

Castroneves climbed out of the car and broke down in tears as the massive crowd of 300,000 stood and cheered, and was initially unable to drink from the winner's traditional quart of milk in Victory Lane.

"It's incredible, I think my tears speak for everything," Castroneves sobbed to reporters. "I have to thank Roger ... everybody, because they gave me my life back. You guys (race fans) don't understand, you guys kept me strong. I'm honoured to have fans like you."

The joyous scenes were in sharp contrast to those just a few months ago when the 34-year-old Brazilian was taken to court in handcuffs and charged with six counts of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy to defraud the US government. He was later cleared of all charges.


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