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05.29.12

Dario Franchitti's Third Indy 500 Win Filled with Emotion

IndyCar - Indianapolis 500

Dario Franchitti's Indianapolis 500 celebration began with a pair of white-rimmed sunglasses.

As he reached for the shades — a Dan Wheldon trademark — and struggled to control his emotions, Franchitti took note of the people who finished on the podium with him — teammate Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Like Franchitti, friends of Wheldon, who won his second Indy 500 last year but was killed in a crash during the IndyCar season finale on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On that Sunday, Franchitti wept openly.

On this one, he seemingly held back the tears but paused often to keep his composure.

"What a race," Franchitti said after climbing from the car. "I think D-Dub would be proud of that one. … This means the world. This is Indianapolis. To be on this trophy on either side of Dan, that means more than anything."

For Dan was beside him, every step of the way — from an honorary lap before the race in Wheldon's Indy 500-winning car to a lap-98 tribute by fans to his widow, Susie, returning to the track for the first time since his death.

With bagpipes blaring in the background, Scotland's Franchitti raised his arms in triumph.

"Vegas was the lowest of the low," Franchitti said. "And I think the reason we all got back in the cars … is because days like today, the emotion of something like today. That's what I got back in the car. There's not a feeling like standing in victory lane. There just isn't."

After chugging the sweetest milk a driver will ever taste, Franchitti climbed into a convertible with wife Ashley Judd and Susie Wheldon for a victory lap around the track. Susie had taken that same ride a year ago when Dan won at Indy for the second time.




"The thing that really got me was the," Franchitti said, pausing, "… the love that the fans showed for Dan, the tribute that we were all able to pay him."

Said Kanaan, a close friend of Wheldon's who just fell short again in his bid for a first Indy 500 win in his 11th attempt: "Danny, wherever he is, is extremely happy … his three best friends in the top three."

By winning, Franchitti joined Helio Castroneves, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser, Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw and Louis Meyer as three-time winners at The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

"Oh my gosh, three, that is such an extraordinary achievement," Judd said of her husband. "What he did today was just awesome.

"When he got in the car today, I told him, 'I will see you in the winner's circle.' I knew it; I knew it."

Franchitti prevailed in an unpredictable and heated race, winning when Takuma Sato crashed while trying to pass him on the final lap.

Afterward, Sato claimed Franchitti forced him too low through Turn 1, and a few boos were mixed with the cheers as Franchitti crossed the finish line.

"It looks like he didn't give me enough room to go there," Sato said. "I was well below the white line. I'm very disappointed."

Franchitti countered by saying he gave Sato plenty of room to pass, but Sato's overly aggressive move caused the spin. "He had a lot of room, but he just went in there with a tight line and lost it," Franchitti said. "He hit us and I kept my foot in it and managed to save it."

The person with the best view — Dixon — said he thought both cars would spin and give him the victory.

"Sato was definitely a guy who was throwing it in there all day long," Dixon said. "He tried to to the same thing with Dario. I thought we were going to be really lucky because they touched, and I thought they were both going to end up in the fence."

Instead, Franchitti maintained control and claimed his third 500 win — putting him one short of tying the record of four shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

"Last week Johnny Rutherford said he hoped to welcome me to the three-time club," Franchitti said. "To be in the company of guys like that means so much."

The finish came down to a six-lap sprint following an extended caution to clean up the crash of Marco Andretti, who had led 59 laps, more than anyone else.

The race itself set a record for most lead changes, as 10 drivers combined to change the lead 34 times.

As Franchitti and Dixon exchanged the lead, Dixon eventually ended up in front. On the 198th lap of a scheduled 200, though, Franchitti passed his teammate and Sato followed. As Franchitti and Sato headed into Turn 1 on the final lap, Sato saw and opening and drove inside Franchitti's car.

As the cars approached the turn's apex, the rear end on Sato's No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda broke free, and it began to spin, narrowly missing Franchitti's No. 50 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Because the caution lights signified the end of the race, Franchitti was ruled the winner — meaning all three of his Indy 500 wins have finished with a yellow flag.

Sato was attempting to become the first Japanese racer to win the Indy 500. Instead, he finished 17th and was left to consider the possibilities.

"I was going for the win," Sato said. "On the last restart, we jumped from seventh to fifth, then took fourth, third and second. I kept pushing and overtaking."

After a relatively poor qualifying performance last week — Franchitti started 16th, Dixon 15th — Ganassi's team took advantage of the return to lower turbocharger boost levels used before qualifying. Both cars were fast Friday in the final practice session and quickly went to the front of the field in Sunday's race.

Following Franchitti, Dixon and Kanaan to the finish line under caution were Oriol Servia in fourth, pole-winner Ryan Briscoe in fifth and James Hinchcliffe in sixth. Justin Wilson, Charlie Kimball, Townsend Bell and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top 10.

Weather weighed heavily on cars and drivers throughout the race, which nearly set a record for heat, falling one degree short of the 92-degree high during the 1937 race.

At one point, Andretti reported by radio that his boot was melting onto the car's throttle pedal. Later, he reported a major vibration and pitted to change tires, an indication that the 130-degree track temperatures were taking a toll on tires. On the 187th lap, he crashed while trying to pass Servia.

"Servia decided to run two-wide at Indianapolis for two consecutive laps and makes me turn in from the white line," said Andretti, who later apologized for his criticism of Servia on Twitter. "I had no hope of making that corner because not only am I turning in from the white line, he just crossed my bow, so I was completely out of it. Nothing I can do. I'm disappointed. I definitely rang my bell."

Several other drivers encountered problems and dropped out of the race. On the 123rd lap, Ryan Hunter-Reay's car suddenly slowed, eventually sending him to the pits and out of the race with a rear suspension failure.

Izod IndyCar Series points leader Will Power was taken out when Mike Conway's car spun in front of his on lap 80.

Conway's No. 14 Foyt Racing Honda slid into the wall on the exit in front of Power's No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara. Conway had been struggling after exiting from a bad pit stop.

"That's what started it," said A.J. Foyt, Conway's team owner. "He slid in and hit my fuel man and knocked him over, and that's what broke the front wing."

Both Lotus-powered entries were black-flagged early in the race for being too off the pace. Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi parked their HVM Racing cars on the 11th lap after top speeds of 205 mph and 203 mph, respectively. (The leaders were posting top laps of better than 220 mph.)

At the outset, Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe traded the lead during the opening laps before Andretti took charge.

With 85 laps down, Andretti led Dixon and Franchitti, who had charged up from the back. Franchitti recovered from a spin in the pits that sent his Honda to the back of the field. Replays showed that E.J. Viso struck Franchitti's car in the rear.

But Franchitti was able to charge through the field and get into the lead pack and, ultimately, drink from the victor's milk jug.

"I just go out and do the best job I can," Franchitti said. "You've got to let the race come to you in some ways." He did just that, and he's a three-time Indy 500 champion to prove it.

 

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Related Photos

  • Dario Franchitti, Photo: Getty Images
  • Target Chip Ganassi #50, Photo: Getty Images
  • Dario Franchitti, Photo: Getty Images