There was a dramatic change Friday in the dance card for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Helio Castroneves, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and "Dancing With the Stars" champ, became a last-minute addition to the race after he was acquitted by a federal jury in Miami on nearly all of the tax-evasion charges against him.
Castroneves, 33, planned to board a plane dispatched by his Penske Racing team and fly to Long Beach so that he could practice and qualify today. "We're ecstatic with the outcome" of the trial, Team Penske President Tim Cindric told reporters in Long Beach. "We're certainly looking forward to having him back."
And while Castroneves hasn't raced since last year, Cindric said he was "100% confident" that the Brazilian -- one of the most popular drivers in the IndyCar Series -- would be ready for Sunday's race.
"His focus and his concentration are among the best," Cindric said. "I know he wants nothing more than to get back in that race car."
Australian driver Will Power, whom Penske had placed in Castroneves' car pending the trial's outcome, will still race at Long Beach in a third car prepared by the team, Cindric said. Ryan Briscoe, who won the season opener two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, Fla., also drives for Penske.
Team owner Roger Penske also was expected in Long Beach today to watch Castroneves and his other his drivers, Cindric said.
Power, winner of last year's Long Beach race, said he was "very happy for Helio and his family" and that continuing to race for Penske was "a great opportunity."
Power, driving Castroneves' car one last time, then went out and posted the fastest time around the 1.97-mile, 11-turn Long Beach circuit in afternoon practice.
Castroneves, his sister and business manager Katiucia Castroneves and motor sports lawyer Alan Miller were accused of helping the driver evade more than $2.3 million in U.S. taxes.
The jury acquitted Castroneves and his sister on the tax-evasion counts and was hung on one count of conspiracy against each of them. Miller was acquitted on his counts of tax evasion and conspiracy.
Outside the Miami courtroom, Castroneves looked to the sky and said, "I just want to thank God, and my fans, and all of the people who prayed for me.
"I love racing, that's my whole life," he said, choking back tears. "Instead of going to Disneyland, I want to go to Long Beach and race."
Prosecutors will review their options on the hung conspiracy charge. Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500 in 2001 in his first attempt and then won it again the following year -- the only driver to win the prestigious race in his first two tries.
While Castroneves' racing success and gregarious manner off the track made him a popular driver, his fame shot higher in late 2007 when he won the "Dancing With the Stars" television competition with partner Julianne Hough.
His return to racing is a major boost for the IndyCar Series, and "we look forward to having Helio back on the grid here at Long Beach," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the series' parent, the Indy Racing League.
Castroneves' ride is considered one of the most coveted in motor sports in light of Penske's strong record in the IndyCar Series, including 14 Indianapolis 500 victories alone.
Castroneves himself has 14 wins in 114 starts and race earnings of $13.2 million in the series. He also nearly won his first series championship last year but came up 17 points short of title winner Scott Dixon.
The tax-evasion case mainly revolved around income from a $2-million sponsorship deal Castroneves had with the Brazilian firm Coimex and the $5-million licensing deal he reached with Penske in late 1999. He and the other two defendants faced more than six years in prison if convicted of the alleged conspiracy and tax evasion between 1999 and 2004.
Associated Press contributed to this report.