Minutes before setting the fastest lap in the final practice session for Sunday's Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves learned that the final federal charge against him had been dropped.
The Brazilian was found not guilty of six federal tax evasion charges last month after a six-week trial. The jury was deadlocked on one charge of conspiracy, and federal prosecutors could have retried him on that charge.
However, on Friday they announced that they would not pursue further action against the double Indy winner.
Castroneves returned to the IndyCar Series in Long Beach just one day after his not guilty verdict last month and went on to take pole position for the 500.
"I don't know if it's sunk in yet," said Castroneves. "But this is the best month of my life."
To cap a magical day, his crew led by veteran crew chief Rick Rinaman edged Marco Andretti in the finals of the Carb Day pitstop competition with a final stop of just 7.962 seconds, a record in the competition. The win was the third in a row for Castroneves and Rinaman's crew.
"Some of these guys have been with me for 10 years or more. We're a team. We win together, we lose together, we celebrate together. This one is very special for me. The month is falling into place. I'm so thankful to have these guys."
When asked about the court's decision, Castroneves wept briefly.
"It feels awesome, no question," he said. "I just have to thank the team, which always believed and has always been behind me. It's just good news. It makes me even more strong. I'm thankful that I had a fair trial and that it turned out the way it did. This is the last page of my book."
When asked if Castroneves had changed because of the trial, Penske team president Tim Cindric and Rinaman joked that Castroneves recently treated his crew to dinner, noting that he rarely picks up the bill.
"We knew he was cheap," Cindric quipped, "but he wasn't a criminal in our minds."