25 May 2009

The View from the Paddock

If an IndyCar fan was asked what they desired from the 93rd Indianapolis 500, they may have wanted to see a Danica Patrick win, for history. Or to see Tony Kanaan, maybe the best driver to never win at Indianapolis, break his hard-luck ways. But, from a national perspective, Helio Castroneves' victory was just about as good as it could get.

From a national perspective, Castroneves is a name brand. His Dancing with the Stars win put him into more households than his first two 500 wins (2001, 2002), but with his third win (making him one of six drivers to wear the winners' wreath three times) he is poised to help continue the growth of the ICS.

The IndyCar Series is now able to market itself far better than it was when Castroneves took home his first two titles. Castroneves is one of the series most attractive stars and one whose name will draw a headline across the ESPN ticker or on an Associated Press feed. The improved marketing effort actually started when he won on Dancing with the Stars and the ICS continued to receive headlines during Castroneves' trial for tax evasion. Pundits claimed that if Castroneves was found guilty, it would be tough for the IndyCar Series to maintain its positive momentum and continue to make inroads in the sporting scene.

However, five weeks ago, Castroneves was acquitted on the all but one of the charges against him (the final one was dropped this week) and his comeback has been impressive. Always one of the most happy-go-lucky drivers in the paddock, Castroneves has had a continuous smile for the last 35 days; additionally, his smiles have translated into solid results on the track, as he is now just five points behind Dario Franchitti for the IndyCar Series points lead, despite missing the series-opening race.

As for the race itself, it was pretty much over after the last round of pit stops saw Castroneves come out in front without the Ganassi stable of Franchitti and Scott Dixon near him. Both cars had issues in the pits, which allowed Castroneves to put Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick, Townsend Bell and Will Power between him and the strongest two cars remaining on the grid.

Still, the Brazilian navigated the corners brilliantly to pull away and win. Over the coming days and weeks, Castroneves will be whisked away for a media tour, allowing the man who entered into mainstream America's view in late 2007 to again enter homes and promote the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series.

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