‘I’ve never seen Roger more nervous’: Penske’s triumphant Indy return in 2001

Helio Indy 500 2001
JEFF ROBERTS/AFP via Getty Images

(Editor’s note: As Helio Castroneves attempts to make history May 29 as the first five-time Indy 500 winner, NBC Sports will review his four previous victories at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and examine how each race was a significant and unique milestone for both the driver, series or track — and sometimes for all three. The series begins on May 27, 2001 with Roger Penske’s triumphant return to IMS and Castroneves bursting into the national consciousness for the first time.)

INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves’ first Indy 500 victory was nearly two years in the making, and it started with a “no” to Roger Penske.

Tim Cindric was hired in the fall of 1999 to become the president of Team Penske, and the first directive from the new boss was to get his team back to his treasured Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After a dominant victory by Al Unser Jr. in the 1994 Indianapolis 500, Roger Penske’s cars failed to qualify in ’95 and had skipped the race from 1996-99 while racing in the rival Championship Auto Racing Teams series (which had split from the Indy Racing League).

Penske bought a Riley and Scott chassis with the full intention of returning to the Indy 500 in 2000 – until Cindric hit the brakes on the plan.

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“They hadn’t won an IndyCar race in two and a half years,” Cindric told NBC Sports. “Roger wanted to create a wind tunnel model to go to Indy, and I talked him out of going in 2000. In my first month of working for him, I’m fighting him to not go to Indy 500. I said, ‘Roger, I’m the last guy who wants to tell you this, but we can not properly go to the Indy 500 next year. You missed the race in ’95. We can’t go back not ready.’

“We got through that conversation and decided to mothball that process.”

Castroneves had yet to join the team when the decision was made. Penske was dealt another blow with Greg Moore’s fatal crash in the Oct. 31, 1999 season finale at California Speedway. Moore already had signed to join the team, and the seat was filled by Castroneves, who was teamed with another new incoming driver, Gil de Ferran.

Penske rebounded by emphatically snapping its winless drought in 2000 with five victories (three by Castroneves, two by de Ferran). And he still had a presence at the Indy 500, sponsoring Jason Leffler’s car for Treadway Racing in a deal that also embedded Cindric (as the strategist) and a Penske engineer with the team to lay the groundwork for returning.

Indianapolis 500 X
Helio Castroneves, Roger Penske and Tim Cindric celebrate victory in the 85th running of the Indy 500 (Robert Laberge/ALLSPORT).

“The Captain” entered the 2001 Indy 500 among the favorites (after Juan Pablo Montoya led 167 laps to win the 2000 Indy 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing, the first CART team to cross over).

But Cindric recalls the team owner being extremely leery about making the show. On qualifying day, Penske refused to set any goals for qualifying (“He was like, ‘Just go do it. Just handle it,’ ” Cindric recalled) and had to be persuaded to come to the pit lane to help wave the green and yellow flags that signified a team’s laps were official.

“Roger was pretty nervous all month, because he hadn’t been in the race,” Cindric said. “I’ve never seen Roger more nervous and probably still haven’t since qualifying day in 2001.”

Some key moments and vignettes associated with Castroneves’ first Indy 500 victory on May 27, 2001:


Castroneves started 11th and led the final 52 laps, taking his first lead on Lap 149 and never relinquishing the point again. He finished 1-2 with de Ferran, who started fifth and led 27 laps.

The duo methodically advanced the front through attrition and pit cycles, overcoming a lack of track time. Because CART had raced in Japan a week before the Indy 500, Penske was unable to compete in the second weekend of qualifying at IMS.

Penske gained an advantage through swift pit work and strong in and out laps on green-flag stops by Castroneves and de Ferran.

Indianapolis 500 X
Helio Castroneves climbs the fence after winning the 85th Indy 500 (Robert Laberge/ALLSPORT).

After a red flag for rain, the finish was determined by the final pit stop, and Castroneves beat de Ferran, Tony Stewart and Michael Andretti out of the race.

“I left Helio a little short on fuel to get out first,” said Cindric, the strategist for all three of Castroneves’ Indy 500 wins with Penske. “Michael ran into the back of Stewart, and we waved Helio right in front. It was a real mess.

“From then, Helio controlled the restart and won. I remember going to victory lane, Helio climbed fence, which we didn’t expect at Indy.”


Castroneves’ first win is Roger Penske’s favorite of his trio with the Brazilian.

“When we hadn’t been at the Speedway, we were off on our trying to run something else as a group of car owners and came back, and it was amazing,” Penske told NBC Sports. “Not only for him as a driver but us as a team. To think we’d been away from the track, the last time we’d won it was ’94.”

It also was special to return to IMS after essentially boycotting the race with CART since ’96 – which Penske now says “was probably one of the bigger mistakes I’ve made over my business career.”

Nearly 20 years after the return, Penske would buy the place, bringing the story full circle. “To depart from the Speedway for a few years but come back and now here we are in a much different position,” he said. “Now I really care who’s running and that we have a great event.”

The May 27, 2001 race also was the first Brickyard victory for Cindric, whose father had worked on Indy 500 teams from 1968-92 but never reached the Winners Circle.

“I said to Roger in victory lane, ‘I know you’ve won this thing 11 times, so this is old hat for you, but this is a big deal for me,’ ” Cindric said. “And Roger says, ‘I’ve never finished first and second here.’ So it was really cool that he’d never done that before.”


Having grown up following Formula One and Brazilian hero Ayrton Senna, Castroneves had no appreciation of what Indy was about – but he got a literal “crash course” in one of the track’s “traditions” after his first incident.

World Indy 200 X Castro-Neves
Helio Castroneves and Tim Cindric in 2001 (ROBERT LABERGE/ALLSPORT)

Castroneves smacked the wall between Turns 1 and 2 in practice during the first week, bending the right-side and left-side suspension on his Dallara-Oldsmobile.

He managed to drive the car back to the garage, and Cindric gave him some bad news.

“I told him there’s a lot of traditions here, and you’ve got to go paint the fence at night,” Cindric said. “And he believed that was true! We called him, ‘Picasstroneves.’ ”

Speedway employees were recruited for the gag, meeting Castoneves with a bucket of paint at the point of contact.

“I was telling him you need to live up to it, and he went out there and painted the fence where he crashed,” Cindric said with a laugh. “Then he found out that wasn’t really true.”

After the victory, Castroneves came to love the Speedway and its many traditions.

“It was fun to watch his evolution through that now to the of four-time winner. I look back to the first day we tested there in October (2000). He said, ‘I don’t care what you say, this place, I don’t really see it.

“But Helio had no idea what Indy was about. I was trying to explain to Helio, and I knew he had the personality that if he was successful at Indy, he’d embrace Indy.”

Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves replicates his celebratory fence climb at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two days after his first Indy 500 win (Robert Laberge /Allsport).

IndyCar results, points after Detroit Grand Prix


DETROIT — Alex Palou topped the results of an NTT IndyCar Series race for the second time this season, extending his championship points lead with his victory in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who also won the GMR Grand Prix (and the Indy 500 pole position) last month, holds a 51-point lead over teammate Marcus Ericsson (ninth at Detroit) through seven of 17 races this season.

Ganassi, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 10 at Detroit, has three of the top four in the championship standings with Scott Dixon ranked fourth after a fourth at Detroit.

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Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden is third in the standings after taking a 10th at Detroit. Pato O’Ward slipped to fifth in the points after crashing and finishing 26th

Here are the IndyCar results and points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:


Click here for the official box score from the 100-lap race on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit.

Lap leader summary

Full lap chart

Best section times

Full section data

Event summary

Pit stop summary

Here is the finishing order in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix with starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 100, Running
2. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
3. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 100, Running
4. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
5. (13) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 100, Running
6. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 100, Running
7. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
8. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 100, Running
9. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 100, Running
10. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
11. (24) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
12. (17) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 100, Running
13. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 100, Running
14. (20) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 100, Running
15. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 100, Running
16. (18) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 100, Running
17. (25) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
18. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
19. (23) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 100, Running
20. (19) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 97, Running
21. (22) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 97, Running
22. (26) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 97, Running
23. (21) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Contact
24. (3) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 80, Contact
25. (27) Graham Rahal, Honda, 50, Contact
26. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 41, Contact
27. (16) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1, Contact

Winner’s average speed: 80.922 mph; Time of Race: 02:01:58.1171; Margin of victory: 1.1843 seconds; Cautions: 7 for 32 laps; Lead changes: 10 among seven drivers. Lap Leaders: Palou 1-28; Power 29-33; O’Ward 34; Palou 35-55; Power 56-64; Palou 65; Rossi 66; Newgarden 67-68; Kirkwood 69; Ericsson 70-76; Palou 77-100.


Click here for the points tally in the race.

Here are the points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:



Engine manufacturers

Pit stop performance

Top 10 in points: Palou 273, Ericsson 222, Newgarden 203, Dixon 194, O’Ward 191, Rossi 176, McLaughlin 175, Power 172, Herta 149, Rosenqvist 148.

Rest of the standings: Grosjean 145, Kirkwood 142, Lundgaard 136, Ilott 116, VeeKay 108, Ferrucci 105, Armstrong 101, Rahal 99, Malukas 91, Daly 88, DeFrancesco 81, Castroneves 80, Harvey 78, Canapino 77, Pagenaud 72, Pedersen 61, Robb 55, Takuma Sato 37, Ed Carpenter 27, Ryan Hunter-Reay 20, Tony Kanaan 18, Marco Andretti 13, RC Enerson 5, Katherine Legge 5.

Next race: IndyCar will head to Road America for the Sonsio Grand Prix, which will take place June 18 with coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.