He is back at his favorite track in the world, driving a tan minivan through the twilight in the infield at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It's early May, the grandstands are empty, and
Castroneves hops out and is greeted by a throng of his most ardent fans, who have been waiting over an hour for him. As flashbulbs pop in his face, a 40-something woman approaches.
"I've kissed you twice before races, and each time you've gone on to the Indy 500," she tells Castroneves. "Can I have one more? It will be for good luck."
"Hey, I've already had enough good luck to last a lifetime this year," Castroneves replies. "It's like my birthday is everyday ... I'd love to give you a kiss."
Yes, Castroneves is feeling good these days. Less than two months after being acquitted of tax evasion charges -- if he had been found guilty, he could have received a six-year prison sentence and been deported -- Castroneves is the prohibitive favorite to win Sunday's Indy 500. He and his Team Penske teammate
I spent a few days with Castroneves earlier this month for a
Castroneves is different on the track as well. He's always been one of the more aggressive drivers on the IndyCar circuit, but since his return he's been, from my perspective, the most aggressive driver in the series, attacking nearly every lap like it's qualifying. I spoke to
But Penske is simply happy to have Castroneves back behind the wheel. He stuck with him during the ordeal, telling the Brazilian that his ride would be waiting for him if he was acquitted of the charges. At the time, that looked like a long shot. After all, the federal government has a conviction rate of 90 to 95 percent in tax evasion cases. But this was a supremely complex case. I asked
After studying the case for a few days, my take on it is this: The only thing Castroneves was guilty of was being ignorant of the tax laws. In other words, I don't think his sister
So now Castroneves is back at his best track, gunning for what would be the most significant win of his career. Given how he's performed thus far in May at Indy, I think it'll be an upset if he doesn't win. He'll be swigging the milk on Sunday.