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Tracy Protests Indy500 Win

Helio Castroneves got to celebrate twice.

The first time, he clung to the chain-link fence along the main straightaway in front of some 400,000 fans at the Indianapolis 500, shortly after taking the checkered flag. The repeat performance came in the solitude of the garage, with nightfall creeping over the track and Castroneves surrounded only by his team.

So ended a wacky day at the Indy 500, where it took about three hours to make it through 200 laps Sunday - and more than 5 1/2 hours to announce that Castroneves had indeed won the race, giving him a chance to carouse again.

"I knew what to do," said Castroneves, known as Spiderman for his fence-climbing exploits. "Let's celebrate."

Well, not so fast. Paul Tracy actually passed Castroneves on the next-to-last lap, then was told to get back behind him because a yellow caution flag had come out.

Castroneves took the checkered flag to become the first back-to-back winner of the 500 since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71, but Tracy insisted that he took the lead a split-second before the caution period began.

The Indy Racing League spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening trying to figure out just who had won, finally posting the official results at 8:40 p.m. EDT.

Castroneves first, Tracy second.

Castroneves popped champagne when he saw the news on TV. The runner-up immediately filed a protest, which was scheduled to be heard Monday at IRL headquarters.

"I believe I won," said Tracy, whose view didn't change after he saw TV footage, the track timing data and videotape. "I passed him, then the yellow came out."

IRL officials admitted the videotape was inconclusive, but they based their decision on data showing the yellow dashboard lights inside the cars went on while Castroneves was still leading. They also relied on a radio broadcast transmitted to all drivers announcing the caution.

Unlike NASCAR, racing in the IRL ceases the moment the yellow flag comes out, not when the drivers come back to the start-finish line. Tracy and Castroneves were almost wheel to wheel when, on the other side of the track, Laurent Redon and Buddy Lazier crashed to bring out the caution.

And so began the debate over what transpired during a fraction of a second in turn three.

"There's just no evidence worthy of overturning our original decision," said Brian Barnhart, the IRL's vice president of operations.

Castroneves didn't have the fastest car on the track, but a brilliant gamble by car owner Roger Penske gave him his 12th Indy victory. The 27-year-old Brazilian went the last 105 miles without stopping for fuel and fresh tires, going to the lead for the first time just 23 laps from the finish.

Castroneves had less than a gallon of fuel remaining as he crossed the line, prompting him to quickly park his red and white car. He leaped out, sprang across the track and jumped on the catch fence, joined by the 64-year-old Penske.

Then, it was back to the team motor home to see if they could keep the victory.
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