INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Dario Franchitti drove 199 nearly flawless
laps, then survived the last one with a huge break from a
spectacular crash to climb back on top of the open-wheel world
Sunday with his second win at the Indianapolis 500.
Two years removed from a failed try in NASCAR, Franchitti held
on with a scant 1.6 gallons of fuel left in the tank - a victory
made possible by a crash that sent Mike Conway airborne and into
the wall, and left the final lap to be run under a caution flag.
"Still running," the winner told his crew over the radio as he
crossed the finish line, while wreckers were moving out to scoop up
debris from Conway's accident with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The victory made Franchitti's boss, Chip Ganassi, the first
owner to win Indy and NASCAR's Daytona 500 in the same year. It
also validated the Scottish driver's return to the IndyCar circuit
two years after celebrating his 2007 Indy victory by making an
unsuccessful move with Ganassi to NASCAR.
England's Dan Wheldon, the 2005 winner who closed furiously as
Franchitti slowed to save fuel in the final laps, was second, and
fellow Brit Alex Lloyd was third, followed by Scott Dixon in
Conway, who waved to the crowd as he was being taken off the
track, was airlifted to the hospital with a broken leg.
Pole-sitter Helio Castroneves saw his quest for a record-tying
fourth Indy victory come to an end with an uncharacteristic mistake
- stalling out while leaving the pits on the 146th lap. It left him
in need of a yellow-flag miracle at the end that never came, and he
finished ninth after one last pit stop on the 193rd lap.
Danica Patrick picked and poked her way from 23rd to finish
fifth despite a balky car that she had complained about in
Patrick never found her comfort zone in the 88-degree weather -
at one point saying she wished she could make up as much time on
the track as in the pits - but she was patient and disciplined and
now has three top-five finishes in six years.
Tony Kanaan finished 11th after moving from 33rd and last to as
high as second. His chances of becoming the first driver in the 94
years of the race to go from worst to first ended when he had to go
to the pits for a splash of fuel with four laps to go.
Franchitti's crew, meanwhile, started pressing their driver to
conserve fuel with about 15 laps left. He did as he was told, and
after leading three-quarters of the race at speeds of up to 224.287
mph, then slowed steadily at the end - to 210 mph, then 209 and
Wheldon started bearing down, putting himself in position to
make the last lap of the Indy 500 the first lap he had led all year
on the circuit.
That's when the cars behind them went flying.
With the yellow flag out, Franchitti's wife, actress Ashley
Judd, put her hand over her head, hoping her man had enough fuel to
make it. He did, and was on his way to a milk mustache in Victory
Lane. Franchitti's other Indy victory came in a race shortened to
166 laps because of rain.
Ganassi won his fourth Indy and has one of those few pieces of
history that aren't owned by racing's most successful owner, Roger
Penske, who had an unusually bewildering day in his quest for a
16th Indy victory day.
More than an hour before Castroneves stalled in pit road,
teammate Will Power's crew left part of the fuel rig in his tank -
a costly mistake that forced Power to take a penalty run through
pit road and dropped him out of the top five.
And moments after Castroneves' error, his other teammate, Ryan
Briscoe, careened into the wall and out of the race while Penske,
The Captain, looked on - hand on hip, seemingly amazed at how his
smooth-running machine fell so far, so fast.
This was part of an overall sloppy day at "The Greatest
Spectacle In Racing," which featured nine caution periods,
including one when Davey Hamilton, the oldest driver in the race,
crashed before the drivers made it out of Turn 2 on the first lap.
Dixon, Franchitti's teammate, lost his left front tire coming
out of pit road. Raphael Matos, who got to second early in the
race, dropped back when his right rear tire came off - then went
out when he hit the wall on lap 72.
Power crept his way back into the top five briefly, but another
pit-road mix-up cost him time. The 29-year-old Australian, first
before the race in the IndyCar standings, finished eighth.
Marco Andretti started 16th and briefly moved to second thanks
in part to his early use of the speed-boosting "push to pass"
button that was making its Indy debut this year. But without as
good a car as the leaders, he fell back to sixth.
Nobody ran a cleaner, more tactically superior race than
Franchitti. He had the third-fastest car in qualifying, which also
helped, as did a little bit of racin' luck at the end - the kind
that has come to him much more easily in the open-wheel world than
in his half-year in NASCAR in 2008.
He returned to IRL last year and won the title in the season's
last race with a similarly clever fuel-conservation tactic in a
race that went 300 miles without a caution.
That was sweet. Winning the big one is sweeter.
He's back home again in Indiana - and back in Victory Lane in
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)