Great Scot: Franchitti Wins Second Indy 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 30 2010

Dario Franchitti emerges from his car in Victory Lane after winning Sunday's Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Indianapolis – On a track where speed is king, to get to the end of the 94th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, all Dario Franchitti could do was slow down.

The normally speedy Scot, his fuel tank closing in on empty, was being exorted by his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team to save fuel because they didn’t know if he had enough in his red Dallara Honda to reach the finish.

“It was a little confusing. I just needed to know what the other guys were doing,’’ Franchitti said after giving Ganassi, the man who resurrected his IndyCar career, his fourth Indy win. “If they were saving more (fuel) than me, they were doing something special here.’’

Franchitti was the class of the 33-car field all day, leading 155 of the 200 laps. But the car that ran consistently over 224 mph early in the 200-lap race, slowed to 208 on lap 197 and was all the way down to 202 on lap 198. Behind him, 2005 race winner Dan Wheldon, running second, was facing the same problem. But Franchitti didn’t know that for sure.

The worry ended suddenly on the penultimate lap around the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval as Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay touched wheels, sending Conway soaring high in the air and into the fence in a dramatic and frightening accident that nearly took out Helio Castoneves, who came into the race hoping to win for a second straight year and become only the fourth four-time Indy winner.

“I could tell by the speed he was running that Dario was closer (on fuel) than I was,’’ Wheldon said. “My spotter told me, `Let’s go get him.’ But when the yellow came out, I knew that it was over. I might have been able to push him but, at that point, all I could do was make sure I got to the (checkered) flag.’’

“Up until 10 laps to go, it was pretty relaxed and then all hell broke loose, with fuel saving and stuff,’’ Franchitti said. “The Target car was the dominant car today. ‘’

Franchitti started from the outside of the front row and passed both Will Power and pole-winner Castroneves to take the lead before the first caution flag flew midway through the first lap.

“That kind of set the stage,’’ Ganassi said. “It was kind of punching his fist down. You can’t win the race on the first lap, but you can lose it. They guy’s a champion. He’s the guy you want in that car in that situation.’’

Actor Jack Nicholson drops the green flag to start Sunday's running of the Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

As for those who might say the team was lucky to win with the fuel situation, Ganassi said, “A lot of those other guys are kicking themselves now, I’m sure, because they have more fuel left in their tanks than they thought.’’

Franchitti won a rain-shortened race here in 2007 while driving for Andretti Green Racing. He went on to win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship and then left the open-wheel series to join Ganassi in NASCAR.

The effort was aborted midway through the 2008 season when Franchitti’s stock car team was unable to find enough sponsorship to keep it going.

Ganassi decided to give Franchitti the opportunity to come back to IndyCar on a top team as teammate to Scott Dixon, who won both the Indy 500 and the championship in 2008.

“I didn’t expect any of this,’’ said the 37-year-old Franchitti, who responded to the second chance by winning the 2009 IndyCar title. “I expected to be retired by the time I was 35. This is all bonus. It’s pretty cool.’’

But the big payoff came Sunday when he handed his boss a historic victory. Ganassi became the first team owner to win the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year – Jamie McMurray won at Daytona in a Ganassi car in February.

“He’s hogging all the trophies,” Franchitti said of Ganassi.

But Ganassi downplayed his role in the Daytona-Indy milestone.

“Obviously, Jamie McMurray won that race in Daytona and Dario Franchitti won the race here today,’’ Ganassi said. “I’m a lucky guy to be in this business. I didn’t drive the cars, I didn’t change any tires and put any fuel in the cars. I have hundreds of people who do that kind of thing and I’m just very, very lucky. … I’m just a guy who gets my name on the door.’’

Ganassi was thinking more about fuel than trophies as the race wound down.

“Little dicey there at the end trying to save some fuel for the finish,” Ganassi said.

Castroneves’ bid for a record-tying fourth victory in the 500 took a big hit when the Brazilian’s car stalled during a green-flag pit stop with 55 laps to go. Castroneves was running top five at the time and appeared to be biding his time as the laps clicked away.

Dario Franchitti and wife Ashley Judd prepare to kiss the bricks. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

The pit error forced Castroneves and his team to gamble on fuel as he topped off and dropped to the rear of the lead lap during a caution which came out with 50 laps to go. He then stayed out when another caution flag waved about a dozen laps later. That put him third but in need of a late-race caution to help him stretch fuel to the end.

He didn’t get it and had to pit – as race leader – with nine laps to go. Castroneves wound up ninth.

“We tried but, unfortunately, little mistakes put us in the back,’’ Castroneves said. “Certainly I am very upset for my guys. They did an incredible job the whole month long and they should walk out of here with their heads high.’’

After a huge struggle since the speedway opened for practice two weeks ago, the Andretti Autosports team put on a solid show in the race.

None of the five Andretti cars started higher than 16th and John Andretti crashed out of the race and finished 30th. Marco Andretti, who was strong all day, finished third.

But Tony Kanaan, who started last, was running second before having to make a late pit stop that put him back to 11th and Danica Patrick, who got booed after blaming her team for a bad qualifying effort a week earlier, ran a solid, strategic race and wound up nursing her car to sixth place.

Hunter-Reay ran in the top 10 all day before he and Conway came together on lap 199.

The big wreck on the final lap saw the car of Mike Conway get airborne and fly into the catch fence.

Conway never lost consciousness in the frightening wreck and was flown by helicopter to Methodist Hospital for treatment on what track medical personnel labeled “a left leg orthopedic injury.’’

Andretti wound up third in the chaotic finish, followed by Alex Lloyd, Dixon, Patrick, Justin Wilson and Power. Mario Romancini was the best of six rookies, finishing 13th, just ahead of fellow first-timer Simona De Silvestro.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 30 2010