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After long year, Helio ready for rest

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After long year, Helio ready for rest

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Helio Castroneves is looking forward to an offseason vacation.

The ups and downs of 2009 were colossal for Castroneves, whose year began with him fighting charges that he evaded federal income taxes, accusations so severe that he would have faced up to six years in prison if convicted. He was acquitted, and about five weeks later, won the Indianapolis 500 for the third time.

With the trial and then the demands of the season, Castroneves hasn’t had a chance to truly relax in months. With the IndyCar season ending Saturday at Homestead-Miami, he’s thinks he’s entitled to that long-awaited opportunity.

“We had so many doubts at the beginning of the season,” Castroneves said. “We might not even be here. And we collected the biggest race in the world. So again, I can’t complain about it. I’m very happy for everything, for the team sticking behind me, the league as well, and I’m here having fun.”

Castroneves finished the IRL season in fourth place, after a fifth-place finish in the season-ending Indy 300.

“I have nothing to complain about,” Castroneves said. “Nothing at all.”

TOP ROOKIE: Mario Moraes’ seventh-place finish Saturday sealed the IRL’s rookie of the year award, ahead of Robert Doornbos.

“It was a good battle with Robert, especially early on,” Moraes said. “I was able to beat him consistently. It was a tough battle, but I tried to use my experience from Indy Lights. It was an incredible experience for me.”

CHEERS FOR JUAN: It’s a real good time right now for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Not only does the stable include Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti — two of the three best in IRL all season — but also Juan Pablo Montoya, who is making a big splash in the Chase for the NASCAR championship.

Franchitti, who won Saturday’s Indy 300 to clinch the IRL yearlong title, is particularly thrilled to see that happen.

“He is driving really, really well and smart,” Franchitti said. “I’m really happy for that team. Last year was so difficult for them, the way everything was going. So now, it’s good to see.”

Montoya is third in the Chase, and will start fourth in Sunday’s NASCAR race at Fontana, Calif.

CLOSING THE GAP: After a year dominated by two teams, Target Chip Ganassi and Penske Racing, count Danica Patrick among the drivers desperate to see the gap close in 2010.

Neither Patrick nor her Andretti Green teammate Tony Kanaan won this season.

“Our cars are not fast enough and what we really need is some darn testing,” Patrick said. “We need to figure it out. The track time gets less and less all the time and it makes it tough, makes it tough to make up ground during the season.”

Lobbying for more testing is about the only indicator that Patrick plans to return to IndyCar next year. She reportedly agreed to a three-year extension last month, although neither she nor her team has announced any formal plan for 2010 and beyond.

IRL ON TV: Versus says it’s continuing to find a solution to an ongoing dispute with DirecTV. Versus’ deal with the satellite provider ended Aug. 31.

Still, the popularity of IRL events on the cable channel continues to apparently grow.

“Viewers are finding it,” Versus president Jamie Davis said.

The IRL plans to soon announce a title sponsor for its series, something that both IndyCar officials and Versus described as “critically important” to the continued growth of both the product and the TV audience.

NEW TOY: Homestead-Miami Speedway is showing off one of its newest toys this weekend: A high-definition scoring tower, stretching 158 feet into the air.

LED displays — each 90 feet high — will give fans constant statistical information during races and qualifying, and are tilted to be visible from any spot in the grandstand. With Homestead serving as the host of both the IRL and NASCAR finales, track president Curtis Gray said it’s important to display up-to-the-minute updates on the various points standings often on the big screens.

“Everything’s about fans right now and growing the business,” Gray said.

TRACKSIDE: Tony Kanaan is expected to begin his offseason next week in Indianapolis, having surgery with hopes of relieving constant pain related to carpal tunnel syndrome. … Hurley Haywood, 61, teamed with Joao Barbosa to win the Grand-Am Rolex Series race on Homestead’s road course Saturday. Haywood has been quasi-retired for several years. … Paying off a bet with native South Floridian Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter wore an orange Miami Dolphins T-shirt. The wager was whether the Dolphins would win seven games last season; Miami won 11 and the AFC East title, meaning Hunter-Reay didn’t have to affix an Indianapolis Colts logo to his helmet.

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