Dario Franchitti wins his third Indy 500 in honor of late friend Dan Wheldon
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org May 27, 2012 11:22PM
Dario Franchitti gives himself the customary milk shower after winning the 96th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. | Jonathan Ferrey~Getty Images
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:53AM
INDIANAPOLIS — You can debate whether the Indianapolis 500 is the world’s greatest race.
What’s not open to discussion is that the Brickyard still knows how to put on a great show.
In an emotional tribute to fallen champion Dan Wheldon, three of his closest friends were poised at the end to duel for the 96th Indy 500 championship. On Memorial Day weekend, there was no greater salute to Wheldon, who died in a crash last October in Las Vegas after winning his second Indy 500 here a year ago.
‘‘What a race!’’ said Dario Franchitti, who etched his own name a little deeper in IndyCar history by capturing his third Indy 500 title. ‘‘I think D-Dub [Wheldon] would be proud of that one.’’
Finishing second and third were Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s Target teammate, and Tony Kanaan, who took a good shot at shaking his unofficial title as the best driver who has never won the Indy 500 but came up short.
‘‘Actually, it was good,’’ Kanaan said softly afterward. ‘‘It felt good. His three best friends fighting for the win. I knew one of us would do it for him. I haven’t done it yet. But to lose like this, it’s an honor. We battled — me and Dario and Dixie. Danny, wherever he is right now, I think he’s extremely happy. His three best friends in the top three.’’
Franchitti, who also won here in 2007 and 2010, took the checkered flag after a rousing finish that rewarded an estimated crowd of 220,000 that braved 91-degree heat, one degree short of the hottest 500, in 1937.
‘‘This means the world,’’ said the Scotsman, flanked by his wife, actress Ashley Judd. ‘‘This is Indianapolis. To be on this trophy on either side of Dan, that means more than anything.’’
The new DW12 Dallara chassis, named for Wheldon, held up well. And the Honda, after taking a backseat to Chevrolet all month, was the engine to have on a race day that saw a record 35 lead changes.
With two laps to go, Franchitti went past Dixon for the lead. Also passing Dixon was Takuma Sato. After stalking Franchitti, Sato tried to pass him on the inside in Turn 1 of the final lap.
When Sato spun during his bold move, Franchitti was free to take the checkered flag under caution.
‘‘It was the very last lap, and I was already in,’’ Sato said, dismissing the thought that he made his move too soon. ‘‘He didn’t give me enough room. He didn’t move up. I had nowhere to go. I’m very disappointed.’’
Franchitti’s explanation made the moment sound like a veteran simply hanging in there against a worthy young challenger.
‘‘Takuma’s very aggressive,’’ Franchitti said. ‘‘He thought that was his chance. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t squeeze him down. He just lost the rear of the car.’’
Franchitti, one of 10 drivers who has won at least three Indy 500s, survived an early incident in which E.J. Viso bumped him in the pits. That required a quick nose-cone job.
Although Marco Andretti led the most laps (59), by the end of the race it was clear that Dixon (53) and Franchitti (23) had the cars to beat, with Sato (31) also driving a fine race.
‘‘Dario did a helluva job today,’’ Dixon said. ‘‘It’s tough when you spend so much time out here and you get so close, then it gets ripped away. But I’m super happy for Dario.’’