The public has spoken.

Helio Castroneves' Baby Borgs and 2006 Kentucky Speedway "Meijer Indy 300" pole award will have some company in the trophy case of his Coral Gables, Fla., home with the addition of the "Dancing with the Stars" mirror ball championship trophy.

The two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and his professional dance partner Julianne Hough prevailed in a "dance-off" with Spice Girl Melanie Brown and her pro partner to determine the winner. Both were allowed to select their favorite dance (Castroneves the Quickstep and Brown the Mambo). As would be expected, both received perfect 30 scores from the three-judge panel.

What put Castroneves into Victory Circle, where there wasn't a fence to climb but a half-gallon plastic jug of milk waiting, was the vote from the 21 million-plus viewers of the ABC show. In the finale, voting totals from the Nov. 26 performances were combined with the judge's total score from both nights to determine the winner. Earlier in the evening, Marie Osmond was eliminated based on voting total/scores from the previous night.

"Honestly, that feeling when they called our name was totally different than winning a race," said Castroneves a few minutes after the stage lights were dimmed. "Obviously, Indianapolis is my biggest win, but this is great. (The dancing trophy) will go right between (the Baby Borg trophies) because this has mirrors and can reflect them."

Being the top vote-getter wasn't a surprise.

Exuding what actors/dancers call the "It" factor - stage presence and personality that engages the audience - Castroneves was an instant hit with the viewers/voters of the highly-rated show. "Watch what you do to these people," judge Carrie Ann Inaba said after their "dance-off" performance that received another extended standing ovation from the studio audience. "That's what dancing is all about."

What remained to polish was Castroneves' footwork. Hough, who guided Olympic speed skating medalist Apolo Anton Ohno to the championship last year, worked her magic with the race car driver who was the only non-entertainer among the final six competitors.

Castroneves acknowledges he didn't fathom what the "Dancing with the Stars" experience entailed when he first entered the rehearsal hall at the close of the IndyCar Series season. After 12 weeks of blistered feet and a bloodied knee, an occasional bruised ego and even Hough competing in the championship round with bronchitis, Castroneves continued to smile and strive to improve.

"It's been an amazing experience," he said. "I would do it all over again in a second." After some uneven performances with corresponding scores, Castroneves' fortunes in the weekly competition that began with 12 celebrity contestants began to look up in Week 8 when he and Hough nailed their Quickstep routine punctuated with a memorable lip lock near the end.

"You're back in the race," Bruno Tonioli proclaimed before delivering a score of 10 for a total of a perfect 30.

And so he was - in to the end.

Story by Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar Series

~ Kentucky Speedway ~