Indy 500 May 24, 2009 (Getty Images)

Indy 500 May 24, 2009 (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Helio Castroneves capped a perfect month of May with the biggest win of all, pulling away to capture his third Indianapolis 500 just 5½ weeks after being acquitted of tax evasion charges.

Castroneves, who hopped back in his Team Penske race car as soon as he was cleared of charges that could have sent him to prison for six years, became just the ninth driver to win the historic race three times - and he's only one win away from joining the most elite group of all: four-time winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

The 34-year-old Brazilian pulled away over the final laps to beat Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick, who eclipsed her historic fourth-place finish as a rookie in 2005 by crossing the strip of bricks in third.

This day belonged to Castroneves, who pumped his fist all the way down the final straightaway.

"I want to climb the fence," said the driver known as "Spiderman," referring to his signature celebration.

Then he did just that, hopping out of his car after the victory lap and scaling the fence along the main grandstand with his pit crew.

"This is incredible," said Castroneves, who was sobbing as he got the trademark bottle of milk.

Roger Penske earned his record 15th Indy win as a car owner. When he leaned in to hug Castroneves in Victory Lane, the tearful driver said, "Thanks for giving my life back."

Castroneves also claimed the pole and won the pit-stop competition before completing his Indy sweep on race day. Actually, he picked up another victory, as well, learning Friday just before he went out for the final practice that the government had dropped the only remaining tax charge against him. The jury couldn't reach a verdict on one count.

"This is the best month of May ever," Castroneves said.

Final Results 1. Helio Castroneves (3) 2. Dan Wheldon (4) 3. Danica Patrick (7) 4. Townsend Bell (8) 5. Will Power (12) 6. Scott Dixon (9) 7. Dario Franchitti (10) 8. Ed Carpenter (20) 9. Paul Tracy (15) 10. Hideki Mutoh (27) 11. Alex Tagliani (36) 12. Tomas Scheckter (19) 13. Alex Lloyd (99) 14. Scott Sharp (16) 15. Ryan Briscoe (6) 16. A.J. Foyt IV (41) 17. Sarah Fisher (67) 18. Mike Conway (24) 19. John Andretti (43) 20. Milka Duno (23) 21. Vitor Meira (14) 22. Raphael Matos (2) 23. Justin Wilson (18) 24. E.J. Viso (13) 25. Nelson Philippe (0) 26. Oriol Servia (17) 27. Tony Kanaan (11) 28. Robert Doornbos (6) 29. Davey Hamilton (44) 30. Marco Andretti (26) 31. Graham Rahal (2) 32. Ryan Hunter-Reay (21) 33. Mario Moraes (5)