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Monday, May 25, 2009
Can five be far off for Helio?

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two months ago, Helio Castroneves was wondering if he would ever race again. Now some people are wondering if he can become the only man to win five Indy 500s.

Castroneves earned his third Indy victory Sunday, an emotional win five weeks after his acquittal on tax evasion charges.

He's still one victory shy of equaling the Brickyard legends. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears each won four Indy 500s.

Castroneves is 34. Unser turned 39 two days after winning his third Indy 500. He was five days shy of 48 when he won for the fourth time in 1987.

Mears was 36 when he earned No. 3 at Indy and 39 when the fourth victory came in 1991.

Among the four-time winners, only Foyt earned his third Indy 500 victory at a younger age than Castroneves, winning No. 3 in 1967 when he was 32. But that was Foyt's 20th start at Indy, and he waited 10 more years for the fourth win in 1977. He was winless in his last 15 starts at Indy.

Mears made only one more start after his fourth win. Unser came closest to a fifth victory. He had five chances to get a fifth win, finishing third in two of those races.

Castroneves was making his ninth Indy start on Sunday. He's in the prime of his career, racing for the best team in the sport at Penske Racing.

Five Indy victories is a reasonable goal for a man who could race for many years to come. Even if he calls it quits at 40, he would have six attempts to earn two more victories on the giant rectangle.

"I will think about it and dream about it," Castroneves said. "But we have to work for it. Certainly we have the team to do it."

Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves and his girlfriend Adriana Henao are the toast of the town after Castroneves' third Indy 500 victory.

Castroneves now is one of six drivers with three Indy 500 victories, joining Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser.

A couple of those guys probably thought they could get four or five, also. Rutherford raced in seven more Indy 500s after his third win. Bobby Unser retired after his third win in 1981.

Shaw raced only once more at Indy after his third win in 1940. Rose had three more starts after winning No. 3 in 1948. Meyer's last win was 1936, racing in three more Indy 500s before retiring.

Castroneves is the first driver in 21 years to earn a third win at Indy. Mears was the last to do it in 1988.

"I feel honored to be in this category of drivers," Castroneves said after the race. "Such incredible names. But without the team and without good people surrounding you, you cannot do it."

Castroneves is racing for legendary Roger Penske, a team owner that has won an unprecedented 15 Indy 500s. Penske drivers have won four of the last nine Indy 500s since his team returned to the Brickyard after a five-year absence during the open-wheel split.

Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing, doesn't rule out five Indy wins for Castroneves.

"It hadn't crossed my mind much since 2003 when [Castroneves] had a chance to win three in a row," Cindric said. "But it's kind of cool to sit up here and think he has a chance to [win five]. As a kid growing up here, I remember how cool it was waiting for A.J. to win his fourth and all the hype about that."

When Castroneves learned the final charge against him (a conspiracy accusation) was dropped on Friday, he said, "That's the last chapter in my book."

Now he's not so sure.

"If we keep doing what we're doing, it's going to be a big book," he said. "I said [Friday] that was the last one, but really, I think it's just the beginning."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.