2009 Long Beach forever changed lives of Helio Castroneves, Will Power

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LONG BEACH, California – The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will forever remain pivotal in the careers of Will Power and Helio Castroneves of Team Penske.

It was at this race 10 years ago that Power’s future with Penske was determined, although the Team 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champion and defending Indianapolis 500 winner had to be reminded of that.

For Castroneves, it’s the 10thAnniversary of one of the most important moments of his life.

It was April 18, 2009 when Castroneves was acquitted of all charges in a tax evasion trial in a United States Federal Court in Miami, Florida.

Instead of being led out of the courthouse in shackles, Castroneves was able to continue his racing career.

Power, who won the Champ Car Series finale in the 2008 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for KV Racing Technology, was out of a ride after the 2008 IndyCar Series season. Less than one month into the offseason, Castroneves was indicted for tax evasion and tax fraud.

If convicted, Castroneves faced a prison sentence and deportation to Brazil.

Team owner Roger Penske stood by the driver, who at that time was a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

Castroneves would be unable to compete for Team Penske during the trial and Penske told him that he would get his IndyCar Series ride back if he was cleared of all charges.

Meantime, Penske needed a replacement driver that could drive for the team while Castroneves was having his trial. Power did not have a full-time deal with any team and believed a part-time ride with Team Penske would give him a chance to showcase his skill with one of the top teams in the series.

As the trial began, Power started sixth and finished sixth in the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida on April 5, 2009. The next race was in Long Beach and as Castroneves’ trial entered its final phases, Team Penske was prepared for any and all outcomes.

The team brought an extra transporter to Long Beach, one that was painted black with no distinguishing sponsor logos. Inside was an extra Team Penske car with the No. 12.

If Castroneves was found guilty, Powers would remain in the No. 3 entry. Once he was acquitted, however, Power would step aside from the No. 3 and give it back to Castroneves.

At that point, Team Penske would bring out the extra car and prepare it as a “one-off” for Power.

It was about 11 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday of the race weekend that word began to circulate around the paddock that Castroneves had been cleared of all charges.

The emotional Castroneves sobbed openly in court, happy to be free to remain in the United States and continue his life as an IndyCar Series driver for Team Penske.

It proved to be a monumental moment in the careers for both drivers.

“Wow – the 10-year anniversary of Helio getting acquitted. That was my big shot,” Power told NBC Sports.com. “I had just finished the Friday practice first in practice and Tim Cindric (Team Penske president) and said to me in the pits, ‘The good news is you are P1. The bad news is Helio is on his way.’

“I was relegated to the back of the pit lane with a whole new crew, whole new car, felt good, went fast in practice on Saturday and won the pole.

“They had another car for me, and I felt like this was a big shot for me at this race.

“To qualify on the pole and finish second confirmed to Roger Penske, ‘Well, we probably should give him another chance.’”

INDYCAR PhotoPower’s No. 12 was sponsored by Verizon, beginning a long sponsorship with the company that continues today. By winning the pole at Long Beach, he outqualified both of his teammates. Castroneves qualified eighth and finished with limited practice time on Saturday and none in the preseason. Ryan Briscoe qualified 10thand finished 13th.

“That definitely solidified my place on this team,” Power said. “I outqualified my teammates. That’s the first thing I needed to do to show Roger I could do at least as well as those guys. Also, he was giving me a chance in the Indianapolis 500 as well. So, I had two races to prove myself.”

Power focused on the job at hand. He finished fifth at the Indianapolis 500 that year. Team Penske added four more races to the schedule in 2009 and Power made the most of those with a third-place finish at Toronto and a dominant victory from the pole at Edmonton. He finished ninth at Kentucky but was involved in a crash in practice at Sonoma Raceway that left him with a broken back.

Power would recover and was rewarded with a full-time ride at Team Penske beginning in 2010.

Since that time, he has become one of the greats of his generation with 32 of his 34 career IndyCar wins coming with Team Penske after the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He won the 2014 NTT IndyCar Series championship and the 102ndIndianapolis 500 in 2018.

He is second all-time in IndyCar poles with 55. Mario Andretti is the leader in most poles with 67.

“The 2009 season was such a pivotal year for me and so important to execute in every race,” Power said. “It ended with a bit of an issue with me breaking my back, but I would recover and had shown Roger I was able to do the job.”

As for Castroneves, Penske already knew he could do the job. He is the only driver in Indianapolis 500 history to win the race in his first two attempts (2001 and 2002). He was already a big-name star in the series and was gaining fame outside of racing as the champion of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2007.

When asked to reflect on the importance of that weekend in 2009, Castroneves smiled.

“Actually, my sister and attorney have called me this week and we are trying to have a reunion of the attorney’s this year at the Indianapolis 500,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “It’s not something you want to talk about, but for sure it was a pivotal moment of my life that brought me back to racing and I’m happy to be here.

“It changed perspective of a lot of things and made me realize how much I love racing. With the victory at Indianapolis that same year, it showed that is what I was born to do. Hopefully, I can keep going as much as I can.”

It was five weeks after he was acquitted that Castroneves won his third Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 2009.

Instead of being incarcerated, Castroneves was in Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has experienced the lowest valley in life to the greatest achievement of his career.

And it also played a vital role in the start of a career for Power, who has become one of the best drivers of his era.

“He wouldn’t have become who he is, so talk about destiny,” Castroneves said of Power. “Sometimes, you can’t plan. God has a plan and it worked for me; it’s worked for Will. It has worked the way it should be.”

Ten years ago, Castroneves remembers making that phone call to Penske to tell him he had been cleared. Penske told him to get ready, he was sending his private plane.

“The plane got to Miami about 6 p.m.,” Castroneves recalled. “I don’t even remember packing; I was just wanting to get out of Miami. We all jumped in RP’s (Penske’s) plane. It was surreal.”

The flight landed about 11 a.m. Castroneves could not sleep that night and he couldn’t wait to get to the track and be reunited with his team.

“I didn’t have much rest, but who cares? It was a new day for me,” Castroneves said. “And that’s how Verizon got started with this team. It changed a lot direction for a lot of people, including mine and Will.

“For that, Long Beach will have a special place in my heart.”

Verizon would go on to sponsor the IndyCar Series from 2014-2018. Castroneves has since moved over to IMSA to drive for Acura Team Penske but will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 11 and the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 24.

On Thursday, Power was inducted into the Grand Prix of Long Beach “Walk of Fame” as a two-time winner of this great event. He was given a dozen red roses along with a plaque similar to the one that will be displayed on Pine Avenue with all of the other racing greats.

Power walked up to Castroneves during a luncheon on Thursday and gave Castroneves the roses along with a hug.

Perhaps that was meant as a way to thank Castroneves and Team Penske for the strange and ironic way that day in 2009 meant for his career.

NHRA Texas winners: B. Torrence, Hagan, Anderson, Savoie

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.

Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.

Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.

Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.

Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).

It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.

It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”

In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.

We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.

We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”

Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).

In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.

It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.

We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.

We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”

Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).

It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.

It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.

Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”

NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER

TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.

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FINAL RESULTS

TOP FUEL: Billy Torrence, 3.775 seconds, 319.67 mph def. Jordan Vandergriff, 4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.909, 327.59 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.928, 323.12.

PRO STOCK: Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.609, 209.75 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.610, 207.56.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.881, 195.90 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.901, 195.62.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Jordan Vandergriff, 3.746, 321.12 def. Clay Millican, 4.099, 219.72; Austin Prock, 3.688, 334.40 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.812, 316.15; Lee Callaway, 3.794, 313.66 def. Mike Salinas, 3.856, 318.69; Brittany Force, 3.694, 330.31 def. Cameron Ferre, 3.984, 269.19; Leah Pritchett, 3.724, 324.12 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.822, 263.51; Billy Torrence, 3.733, 327.35 def. Terry McMillen, 3.756, 325.77; Shawn Reed, 3.728, 327.51 def. Steve Torrence, 3.733, 319.52; Antron Brown, 3.743, 329.58 def. Richie Crampton, 4.330, 186.61; QUARTERFINALS — Vandergriff, 3.753, 322.73 def. Callaway, 9.885, 82.51; B. Torrence, 3.767, 325.69 def. Reed, 4.861, 154.60; Prock, 3.742, 330.39 def. Pritchett, 3.964, 250.55; Force, 3.815, 319.60 def. Brown, 4.113, 230.72; SEMIFINALS — B. Torrence, 3.747, 328.38 def. Force, 3.793, 318.32; Vandergriff, 3.824, 316.97 def. Prock, 3.864, 294.95; FINAL — B. Torrence, 3.775, 319.67 def. Vandergriff, 4.299, 246.03.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.896, 328.86 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.955, 326.79; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.908, 327.03 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.375, 219.54; John Force, Camaro, 3.926, 328.14 def. Jeff Arend, Ford Mustang, 7.353, 96.26; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.911, 327.19 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.342, 209.20; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.873, 327.19 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 15.205, 57.93; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.903, 329.58 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.007, 280.19; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.925, 325.85 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.908, 323.97; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.932, 324.05 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.957, 323.97; QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 3.937, 326.40 def. Langdon, 3.964, 321.35; Hagan, 3.903, 329.18 def. Todd, 3.937, 325.85; Tasca III, 3.938, 324.20 def. Beckman, 3.951, 322.42; Force, 3.937, 327.98 def. Johnson Jr., 3.919, 320.20; SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 3.900, 329.83 def. Hight, Foul – Red Light; Tasca III, 3.920, 323.89 def. Force, 3.951, 327.98; FINAL — Hagan, 3.909, 327.59 def. Tasca III, 3.928, 323.12.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.609, 208.91 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.635, 208.68; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.597, 208.78 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.590, 208.88; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.964, 125.90 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.602, 207.59 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.615, 208.17; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.617, 208.14 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.638, 207.85; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.577, 209.56 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.618, 208.55; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.579, 210.11 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 7.820, 127.56; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.573, 209.49 def. Richie Stevens, Dodge Dart, Broke; QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.625, 208.23 def. Butner, 6.656, 208.42; Anderson, 6.596, 210.05 def. Enders, 6.604, 210.54; Kramer, 6.611, 209.17 def. McGaha, 6.630, 208.75; Coughlin, 6.620, 208.23 def. Stanfield, 6.630, 208.46; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.609, 207.37 def. Hartford, 6.656, 207.43; Anderson, 6.628, 206.76 def. Kramer, 6.627, 208.30; FINAL — Anderson, 6.609, 209.75 def. Coughlin, 6.610, 207.56.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.912, 195.34 def. Ryan Oehler, 6.901, 196.33; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.863, 196.67 def. Angie Smith, 6.910, 195.65; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.885, 194.46 def. Hector Arana Jr, 6.933, 193.52; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.903, 190.89 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.898, 194.21 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.955, 192.08; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.849, 194.21 def. Michael Ray, 7.209, 155.76; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.827, 196.10 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 8.231, 104.03; Matt Smith, 6.837, 197.33 was unopposed; QUARTERFINALS — Sampey, 6.914, 193.93 def. Pollacheck, 6.918, 194.16; Hines, 6.921, 194.58 def. Johnson, 6.889, 194.35; Krawiec, 6.899, 195.76 def. M. Smith, 6.935, 196.24; Savoie, 6.857, 196.44 def. Stoffer, 6.900, 196.07; SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 6.957, 195.48 def. Sampey, 6.989, 190.35; Savoie, 6.877, 195.76 def. Hines, 6.991, 191.51; FINAL — Savoie, 6.881, 195.90 def. Krawiec, 6.901, 195.62.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,394; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,361; 3. Brittany Force, 2,348; 4. Billy Torrence, 2,323; 5. Leah Pritchett, 2,290; 6. Austin Prock, 2,278; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,266; 8. Antron Brown, 2,247; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,228; 10. Clay Millican, 2,210.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.

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