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Castroneves is Indy 500 winner, again

But finish of race is mired in controversy

By Mike Harris

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- His lead evaporating with just over a lap to go, his mirrors and visor smeared with oil, Helio Castroneves saw a blurry yellow flash and feared the worst. Instead of a fuel light, though, it was a timely caution -- and prelude to a disputed victory.

Castroneves won his second Indianapolis 500 Sunday and then waited more than 51⁄2; hours before the victory was upheld when fast-closing Paul Tracy's pass on the next-to-last lap was disallowed. An official review determined that the pass came seconds after the final caution light froze the field in position.

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Tracy's team said it would appeal, and Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations of the Indy Racing League, said a hearing would be scheduled in the near future.

Tracy said he had seen replays of the pass, as well as some of the track data, and "I'm convinced I'm still the winner."

Castroneves remained likewise convinced he had won.

"What is just is just," Castroneves said. "I'm not sorry for Paul Tracy, but I'd probably do the same thing if I was in his shoes."

Tracy's car owner, Barry Green, met twice with Indy Racing League officials during the review, which included several videotaped angles of the disputed finish, and said he believed his driver won.

"We have footage, we have driver statements. We have IRL timing and scoring data," Green said. "My team, they worked their butts off this month. I owe it to my team and my sponsor."

Castroneves became the first driver to win consecutive Indys since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71, and it was the 12th Indy victory for car owner Roger Penske.

It was a triumph for strategy and survival.

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First, he gambled he could finish the last 100 miles without stopping for fuel and fresh tires. Then, some savvy driving helped the 27-year-old Brazilian avoid the troubles that plagued leader after leader before him.

Tracy, driving at Indy for the first time in seven years, did pass Castroneves, but not until the after 1996 winner Buddy Lazier and rookie Laurent Redon crashed on the 199th of 200 laps.

"I think it's me that won," Tracy said. "I know I was ahead of him. I passed him, then the yellow came out."

Under IRL rules, no passing is allowed after the yellow flag is displayed and the yellow lights come on around the track. The dispute was whether the caution had already begun before the pass.

"The only reason he passed me is the yellow came on," Castroneves said. "I was protecting a position. He couldn't just pass me. I'm the one who lifted off because of the yellow."

Tracy and team owner Green disagreed adamantly.

Results, Page 2C; Jim Litke column, Page 8C.

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