May 30, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dario Franchitti was finally first after 500 miles in the Indianapolis 500, even though he was already an Indy 500 champion in 2007.

Franchitti's victory three years ago came in a race shortened by rain and flagged after 166 laps.

There was no chance of rain Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Franchitti drove a flawless race, dominating by leading six times for 155 laps in the 200-lap contest before having to conserve fuel to make it to the finish.

The race ended with a spectacular crash between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway in the north chute between Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap. Conway's car went airborne and ripped into the fence before landing upside-down on the race track in one of the most spectacular crashes in recent Indy 500 history.

Conway was able to get out of the car and wave to the crowd of over 300,000 fans afterward. He was later airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where he is being treated for orthopedic injuries of his left leg.

Two male spectators were treated for minor injuries after being struck by debris in the crash. One received stitches for a cut in the forehead while the other suffered a head laceration that required no stitches.

Meantime, Franchitti was able to celebrate his second Indy 500 win in victory lane.

"This (the milk) tastes just as good the second time around," Franchitti said after taking a swig out of the traditional bottle of milk that goes to the winner of the Indy 500. "I just needed to know what the other guys were doing with fuel. There was a gap behind them and a lot of confusion. This means so much after coming back when I went away for a year in 2008 and to come back, win a championship and win the Indianapolis 500."

Dan Wheldon finished second for Panther Racing for the second year in a row. Alex Lloyd started 26th and was originally scored as third and 2008 Indy winner Scott Dixon fourth with Danica Patrick fifth. But IZOD IndyCar Series officials reviewed tapes of the end of the race and determined that Marco Andretti had slowed down to pace car speed when the yellow light came on but was passed by Lloyd, Dixon and Patrick.

Andretti has been restored to third place which Lloyd moving to fourth with Dixon fifth and Patrick sixth.

After getting booed by the crowd in driver introductions, Patrick started 23rd and finished in the top-10. She drove underneath Conway's car while it was airborne.

"I knew the strength of the team would be in the race," Patrick said. "I had faith in that. The pit stops were great. It was a little tough to pass but between pit stops and strategy it was a great race. I hope Mike Conway is not hurt. That could just as easily be me one of these times.

"It's been an exciting month. I'm a little relieved."

Franchitti will collect a check over $3 million at Monday night's Indianapolis 500 Victory Awards Ceremony. It will be his reward for drive to victory at an average speed of 161.632 miles per hour in a race that featured 13 lead changes and was slowed nine times for 44 laps of caution.

With Helio Castroneves attempting to become the fourth, four-time winner in Indy 500 history and starting from the pole, it was Franchitti who set the pace at the start of the race when he went to the outside of the first turn to pass Will Power and then Castroneves to lead the first lap.

It wasn't long before the yellow flag flew when Davey Hamilton crashed in the first turn on Lap 1. It would be the first of many yellow flags with Franchitti as the leader.

While Franchitti was the class of the field, the race would be determined by the timing of the last pit stop.

Franchitti pitted on lap 162 during a caution -- a few laps beyond the miles the car can go before running out of fuel. When the green flag waved on lap 166, Franchitti was fifth on the restart because Mike Conway and Justin Wilson had not pitted and Helio Castroneves had short-pitted in an attempt to get back to the front of the field after stalling in the pits earlier in the race.

One by one, the cars in front of him had to pit for a splash of fuel in order to make it to the finish and that gave Franchitti the lead for good with eight to go.

Franchitti, however, had to ease off the throttle in order to make it to the finish.

"From the first lap today the car wasn't easy to drive but it was fast," Franchitti said. "We seemed to get through in traffic and it was all looking good until that yellow with about 40 to go.

"Were we saving enough fuel? Turns out we had plenty of fuel. There was enough. It was a great day."

While Franchitti was the leader of the pack at the front of the field, the star of the show was Tony Kanaan's charge from 33rd starting position to second place late in the race. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough fuel to make it to the finish and had to pit with four laps remaining.

"I had a dream last night that TK (Kanaan) and I were going to fight to the finish," Franchitti recalled. "By that point I had those thoughts and then I said get away from TK and try to hang on to those guys ahead of me and save as much fuel as I could but when he pitted that took a lot of pressure off of me.

"Until he pitted I didn't take my eye off him but it was nice to see his month end going from last to second. That was cool. He will win one of these races one day, just watch."

Kanaan finished 11th but certainly had a car that could have contended for the victory if he hadn't been forced to pit so close to the checkered flag.

"I hope I made it exciting out there," Kanaan said. "I promised them a good start, and I think I did that. I have been in many positions for this race, and I don't think the fastest car wins all the time. I think we had a shot for a win. This whole team for the work they did today deserved a top-three today. I had to come in and get fuel and go out and go as fast as I could.

"The strategies could have worked both ways. We took a gamble. When it comes to a fuel strategy race, I'm not a big fan of it. It could have gone the other way. We could have gotten the lead and won the race, and we could brag about it for the rest of my life. I support my guys all the way. Let's learn from it. I think this team is more together than ever."

Entering the race without one of its five cars in the top 15, the much-maligned Andretti Autosport team finished with two drivers in the top six led by Marco Andretti in third and Patrick sixth.

Castroneves failed in his quest to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners when he had to "short pit" in order to get back toward the front after stalling his car on a pit stop earlier in the race. The Team Penske driver finished ninth.

"Congrats to Dario," Castroneves said. "What an awesome car he had. Ganassi did an incredible job to put him up there. It was the car to beat today. We tried. Unfortunately, silly mistakes put us in the back. I'm very disappointed. I'm more disappointed with the mistake. Certainly, I am very upset for my guys. They did an incredible job the whole month long. They should walk out of here with their heads high."

But the driver who left "Walking Tall" was the race winner who joins an elite list of drivers that have won the Indianapolis 500 more than once.

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