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Helio has his ride back if he is acquitted UPDATE Team owner Roger Penske left no room for interpretation about where he stands on his star driver, Helio Castroneves, being tried on federal tax evasion charges.

In a wide-ranging interview in his motor coach today, Penske said Castroneves "doesn't have a bad bone in his body" and that he hopes "the jury will see that he's not the culprit in this situation."

Castroneves' Miami trial wrapped up its fourth week Friday, and Penske said he understands that his defense team will wrap up its case early next week. Closing arguments and deliberations would follow.

Will Power will drive Castroneves' No. 3 Penske Racing car in today's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after qualifying sixth Saturday, but Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 and grand prix winner, will get his job back if he's found innocent.

"If there's no issue coming out of this, he'll be in the car at Long Beach," Penske said. "If he would have been done Thursday of this week, we would have put him in the car Friday. ... This is a complex off-shore tax, U.S. government, all the above (situation)."

Penske said it's possible the team could run a third car for Power if Castroneves returns. On another topic, he said three-time IRL champion and 2006 Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. has to show improvement on his NASCAR team this year. TBO.com

04/04/09 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, sister/business manager Kati and lawyer Alan Miller are charged with evading taxes on more than $5-million in income. Defense testimony – which asserts Castroneves has not yet received the monies in question - is expected to conclude 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.

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 her 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.” Tampabay.com

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