Bruce Martin
Monday May 31st, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dario Franchitti has always exuded a certain amount of glamour. After all, the Scotsman of Italian heritage has the dark, good looks of an actor, but it's his wife, Ashley Judd, who has gained fame in Hollywood.

Franchitti was a "Racing Star" not a "Movie Star" in an Indianapolis 500 that had some of the biggest names in Hollywood in attendance, from Mark Wahlberg on the starting grid getting a ride in a specially prepared Honda Two-Seater IndyCar that was billed by series sponsor as "IZOD's Fastest Ride in Sports" to Jack Nicholson waving the green flag to start the 33-car starting field on a fast and fierce 500-mile journey.

Nicholson loved the experience so much that he refused to come down from the flagstand for the first 30 laps of the race. He even waved the green flag on two restarts following caution periods.

But at the end of a 500 that ended dramatically while Franchitti was running low on fuel, this one will be remembered for Dario's dominance as he became an Indy 500 legend with his second victory in the world's biggest race.

He had the No. 10 Target/Chip Ganassi IndyCar in the lead on the first lap, picking off Will Power with an outside pass in the first turn and then Helio Castroneves in Turn 2. He would go on to lead six times for 155 laps, the most laps led by a winner since Juan Pablo Montoya's 167 laps en route to winning in 2000.

"That move at the start, I knew the car was capable of it," Franchitti said. "I pulled on past him and it worked. From Lap 1 to Lap 200, I drove as hard as I could drive. Today, my car was perfect."

And that was a pace that no other car in the race could match. Because Franchitti was able to build a big enough lead, no one was able to catch him when he was forced to slow down to conserve fuel in the waning laps. Dan Wheldon tried but ended up second.

"I was concerned about running out of fuel, but it was just get to the finish," Franchitti said. "That last lap I saved a lot of fuel, but Dan was coming on."

It was a distance that Wheldon could not overcome as the race ended with a frightening crash when Mike Conway's car went airborne after hooking wheels with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Conway's car ripped into the catchfence in the north short chute between Turns 3 and 4 and landed upside-down. Conway suffered injuries to his left leg and was being treated at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

It was the only blemish on an otherwise picture-perfect day at the Indianapolis 500.

"The good thing was at the start of the race Dario asserted himself on the start," said team owner Chip Ganassi, who became the first car owner in history to win the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year. "Yes, there was that quick yellow, but he got by Will Power going into Turn 1 going to the outside and then he passed Helio Castroneves going into Turn 2 with that yellow there. That set the stage. It pounded his fist and staked his claim. You can't win the race at the start but you can lose it. I think that perked him up and got him up in the seat."

Ganassi's unique "Indy/Daytona Double" is impressive if not historic.

"Jamie McMurray won that race in February and Dario won that race here today," Ganassi said. "I'm a lucky guy to be in this business and to be able to work with people like that. I'm very, very lucky. For 25 damn years and plus more I've put these teams together. I'm just the guy that gets my name on the door and the sign on the front, but it's a lot of hard work by a lot of people, decision-making that you never know if you made the right decision or not. You have no idea what a lonely world it is to be a car owner these days. Everybody is pushing hard to get those cars to the front. Someday we will look back at the record books but when it comes down to it it's the sports business and every kid's dream."

While listening to Ganassi speak about McMurray's accomplishment at Daytona, Franchitti couldn't help but interject, "I wish we had those cars in 2008."

That was the year Franchitti walked away from IndyCar and switched to NASCAR. He wanted a new challenge and that is exactly what he got because the team parked his car by the end of June that year for lack of sponsorship. That proved to be a blessing in disguise because it brought him back to IndyCar with one of the best teams in the business.

"It all worked out perfectly," Franchitti said. "It says a lot about Chip and the people he employs as well. The mindset whether he is here or in Concord, North Carolina, he is here to win. If you aren't interested in that then you shouldn't be here. To race for a team like that you know everybody is on it all the time."

Ganassi knew he had a winner when he hired Franchitti. After all, he was the driver that beat Ganassi's other driver, Scott Dixon, for the 2007 IndyCar Series championship on the last lap of the last race of the season when he was at what was then called Andretti Green Racing.

"If I thought Dario didn't know how to drive he wouldn't be driving the car no matter what happened in NASCAR," Ganassi said. "I knew that he knew how to drive and was the best driver available when that seat became available. He was the best driver available to drive the car and he still is.

"His NASCAR experience, that was like a 'Semester at Sea.' I'm glad we did it and it's over with."

Franchitti grew up idolizing fellow Scotsman Jim Clark, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner, and Jackie Stewart, a Formula One racing legend.

With his second Indy 500 victory to go along with two IndyCar Series championships, Franchitti is now a racing legend in his homeland.

"I remember going to race tracks and seeing my heroes and when they were nice to me it was an unbelievable feeling," Franchitti recalled. "I've never forgotten that."

And for those who witnessed Franchitti's drive to victory, it won't soon be forgotten.

Franchitti was asked to compare Sunday's Indy victory with his rain-shortened win in 2007.

"It's like comparing my two dogs," Franchitti said. "They are both different but they are both pretty cool. We need a third dog now."

Rarely has such a dominant performance been as dramatic as Dario's Drive at Indy. In Hollywood terms, it was a blockbuster performance. BRUCE MARTIN'S IN-RACE BLOG FROM INDY

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