INDIANAPOLIS -- Helio Castroneves earned a major slice of Indy 500 history Sunday, becoming the fourth driver to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a fourth time.
Castroneves, 46, joined Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser as a record-tying four-time winner of the 500-Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, outdueling Alex Palou to win the 105th Indy 500.
Castroneves, who also won the Indy 500 in 2001-02 and ’09, took the lead from Palou for the final time with two laps remaining in his No. 06 Dallara-Honda to score the first victory at the Brickyard for Meyer Shank Racing.
“I love you!” Castroneves, who was making his 21st Indy 500 start but his first outside of Team Penske (which inducted him into its Hall of Fame), screamed on the radio. “I love you IndyCar! Thank you IndyCar!”
Castroneves took a victory lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on foot, jogging up and down the frontstretch to massive cheers after doing his traditional fence climb. He also received congratulations from Mario Andretti, Will Power, Marco Andretti and a host of other drivers and former Penske teammates in becoming the first driver to win an Indy 500 with another team after winning it for Team Penske.
This was only the fourth race this season for Castroneves, who is running a partial season with Meyer Shank Racing after winning the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship last season (his last with Penske). It also continues a dream season for the Brazilian, who won the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Castroneves’ 31st career victory in IndyCar also was the first in the NTT Series for Meyer Shank Racing.
At 46 years, 20 days old, he also is the fourth-oldest winner in Indy 500 history behind Unser (47 in 1987), Bobby Unser (47, ’81) and Emerson Fittipaldi (46, ’93).
Palou finished second, followed by Simon Pagenaud, Pato O’Ward, Ed Carpenter, Santino Ferrucci, Sage Karam, Rinus VeeKay, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan.
The race’s only major on-track incident came on Lap 119 when Rahal pitted from the lead, and his pit crew left the left-rear tire loose. The wheel popped off as Rahal exited the pits, sending his No. 15 Dallara-Honda into a hard impact with the outside Turn 2 SAFER barrier.
The wheel ricocheted back into traffic and struck the front of Conor Daly’s No. 47 Chevrolet.
“It’s famous last words, but we had them,” Rahal told NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “We had them. We were in the perfect spot. We were just cruising. Our strategy was playing right. I was doing a good job in the car. We had them today.
“This one is hard to accept. I’m proud of the United Rentals guys. We worked hard all day. I’m sorry we didn’t win this thing because we should have.”
With fans back at the Indy 500 for the first time in two years, one of the day’s biggest cheers erupted when Daly, a longtime Indianapolis resident, took the lead from VeeKay on Lap 50.
Scott Dixon started on the pole position but led only three laps after Herta took the lead on Lap 1.
While Herta and VeeKay traded the lead, Dixon conserved fuel in third -- which seemed a smart strategy when the caution flew on Lap 33 after Dixon had inherited first when Herta, VeeKay and several other lead-lap drivers had pitted.
But the pits were closed for multiple laps under yellow because Stefan Wilson had spun into the wall on entry, which left Dixon in a predicament. Choosing to make an emergency stop while the pits remained closed on Lap 36, Dixon’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda coasted in out of fuel and wouldn’t refire.
The same situation happened to Alexander Rossi on an emergency stop for fuel a lap later, and both former Indy 500 winners were a lap down when the race restarted because of the timing of Wilson’s crash.
“Heartbroken,” Wilson told NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast. “The team worked so hard for the whole month. We were having good stint, moving forward and got the call to pit a little bit late. That wasn’t really the issue. As soon as I went to the brakes, there was nothing there. I tried to pump them up, couldn’t get enough pressure and locked the rears on one of the pumps.
“Just devastated. Hope I get another chance at the Indy 500.”
A sellout crowd of 135,000 -- roughly 40 percent of capacity for the track, whose grandstands hold 235,000 seats and usually has 300,000 on race day including the infield -- filled the track quickly, nine months after the 2020 Indy 500 was run in front of empty grandstands because of COVID-19.
Before giving the command to start engines, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske thanked fans for their loyalty and also saluted the military, first responders and health care workers for helping the country navigate the pandemic.
“You are the reason this is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Penske said.