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Helio Castroneves to return to Penske fast, if he's found innocent in trial

ST. PETERSBURG — Team owner Roger Penske said that Helio Castroneves will be reinserted into his No. 3 car currently occupied by Will Power for the Long Beach Grand Prix next Sunday if he is acquitted this week on charges of federal income tax evasion.

Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 and Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner, his sister/business manager Kati and lawyer Alan Miller are charged with evading taxes on more than $5 million in income. U.S. District Judge Donald Graham said the case is expected to be sent to a jury by Tuesday.

"Next week will be D-Day for him to determine where we're going to be," said Penske, who has been in almost daily contact with his driver of 10 seasons over the six-week trial.

Penske said Castroneves would have driven in today's Indy Racing League season opener if the case had concluded by Thursday.

"We've never backed off a minute (in support of Castroneves)," Penske said. "In fact, it's a tough situation because he doesn't have a bad bone in his body and this is a complex offshore tax, U.S. government … all of the above involved. We certainly understand the concerns everybody has for him and we're hoping the facts turn out that the jury sees that he's not a culprit in this situation."

Penske is considering adding a third car to accommodate Power, who won at Long Beach last year for a different team, and will start sixth here today.

"We've talked about that. And the problem is there's so many decisions that ride on what happens to Helio," Penske said. "It's hard to say, but Will has done a good job for us."

TAKE IT: Ryan Hunter-Reay was more pleased than most after qualifying 14th for the IndyCar opener.

Unemployed after last season when the ethanol industry didn't renew its sponsorship — paralyzing the Rahal Letterman team for which he drove — Hunter-Reay signed on Wednesday with Vision Racing and he outqualified teammate Ed Carpenter on Saturday.

"I have to keep reminding myself of the timeframe we're dealing with here," Hunter-Reay said. "That car was sitting in a corner of the Vision Racing shop since the last race of 2008 until just seven days ago. Now it's running competitive lap times with guys that are qualifying in the top six."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Defending series champion Scott Dixon, who qualified eighth, almost a full mile per hour slower than pole-sitter Graham Rahal's best lap: "We were consistent, but consistently slow."

A LIST: Fans started lining up well before the 3:45 IndyCar driver autograph session. By 2 p.m., about 10 people were in Line B, while more than 50 were in Line A. The difference? Danica Patrick was among those who would sign for Line A.

NO TIME: Rookie Mike Conway qualified 12th for today's race yet is officially listed as having no time. He was one of the six fastest in his half of the field in the first segment of qualifying, but just as the checkered flag fell he hit the wall in Turn 9, damaging his car enough to knock him out of the second, 12-car segment.

Helio Castroneves to return to Penske fast, if he's found innocent in trial 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 10:10pm]
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