Birthday boy, HELIO CASTRONEVES/No.3 Team Penske, gave himself the best-ever (early) birthday present Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speed with his Indianapolis 500 Pole position, after withdrawing his original third-place run. He turns 34 Sunday. Along with all the pomp and circumstance which accompanies the pole comes the $100,000 PEAK Performance Pole Award from Autozone.

This was the third Indy 500 pole for the personable Brazilian, and twenty-seventh career pole, – more than any other IRL driver. And it’s the fifteenth Indy 500 pole for team owner, ROGER PENSKE, more than any other car owner. If Castroneves goes on to win, then Penske can change his vanity license plate from WON INDY 14 to WON INDY 15.

Castroneves said “It’s magic, man. The car came basically out of the truck ready to go. After everything we have been though lately, this is just incredible.  I just have to thank my team, Roger (Penske), Tim (Cindric), my family, my girl friend and everyone who has had faith in me.  This is what I know.  Racing is my life.  Our cars have been extremely strong since we arrived here.  Today was about finding the ‘edge’.  If the car feels too good, then it’s not fast enough.  We were able to squeeze every bit of speed out of the car today.”

The funniest comment out of Castroneves’ conference came from TIM CINDRIC, Penske Racing President, after several questions about Castroneves court battles. Cindric said that “Helio’s English has improved hanging out with all those attorneys.”

RYAN BRISCOE/No.6 Team Penske was runner-up and his consolation prize was a PEAK check for $25,000. He said “I thought I was going to have a shot at the pole then and just couldn’t get it done. We tried. You can’t say we didn’t try. We knew we had speed. I didn’t go as fast as I was expecting. I felt confident that I was going to be able to at least defend my position. And I really thought I had a shot at getting the pole, but it didn’t work out. I think the track got quicker. When we went into that qualifying run, I would have liked to have had a couple more practice runs. I knew I had a fast car, and I knew I was going to have a shot at it. So far, the Team Penske cars are looking pretty good. We’ve been solid all month. We tried to go out and get (the pole) back, but we couldn’t get it done at the end of the day. It was just an unbelievable qualifying run by Helio (Castroneves) and Team Penske. He must be on top of the world at the moment. But I tell you, for me, second place at the Indy 500, second front row in a row, it’s a great feeling, and I’m just so happy to be here. I know I’ve got a good car going into this race in a couple of weeks, and I just hope we can have a solid run, be at the front all day long and have a shot a winning this 500.”

Third fastest qualifier, DARIO FRANCHITTI/No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said “We kept looking at that wind sock. The wind was horrible. For four laps it was difficult to keep my balance.” He received a PEAK $10,000 check.

This year’s 11-car field average speed was 223.579 mph. Last year’s 33-car field average speed was 222.302 mph. There are three past Indy 500 winners in the top 11 cars – Castroneves, Franchitti and SCOTT DIXON/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who will start fifth. Both Franchitti and Dixon are also past IRL Champions.

ALEX LLOYD/No.99 Chip Ganassi Racing Sam Schmidt Motorsports qualified eleventh, much to the surprise of himself as well as everyone else. He hasn’t raced in a year – last year’s Indy 500, his one and only IRL race. He lined for his first run with less than 15 minutes left in the six-hour session, and bumped his way into the field with one minute to the final gun.

Lloyd, who is the 2007 Indy Lights champion, is sponsored by HER Energy Drink. This has to be the most visible car and livery at the Speedway this month – bright, in your face neon pink. And Lloyd has gamely withstood all the jokes regarding the whole deal. Franchitti said “Pink Lloyd did a terrific job. It takes a real man to wear that pink suit.”

Lloyd couldn’t say enough good things about the high caliber and quality of his team – Chip Ganassi Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Sunday’s schedule starts with a sixty-minute Indy 500 practice session at 10:15 am EDT, and six hours of qualifying at noon, for the next 11 positions in the field.