Franchitti Joins Indy 500 Elite with 2nd Win
INDIANAPOLIS - Dario Franchitti walked away from Indy-car racing three years ago never intending to return. In coming back, he's driven into the company of legends, even if he won't admit it.
Sunday's victory in the 94th Indianapolis 500 was his second in four years, making him the 17th driver to claim multiple victories in the event.
With Izod IndyCar Series championships on either side of his brief foray into NASCAR, Franchitti can be placed among the elite of U.S. open-wheel racing, on par with the late Bill Vukovich, Rodger Ward, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr., to name a few of the two-time winners.
Franchitti downplayed his place in history.
"I'm just a driver," he said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Those guys are legends."
Maybe, but Jim Clark is his Scottish hero, and Clark won Indy only once, in 1965 - 45 years to the day.
Franchitti, who turned 37 last week, won his first 500 in the rain in 2007. The second came under the yellow caution flag because of a horrific crash.
The first came with Andretti Green Racing, and this one was with Ganassi Racing.
He had short hair the first time; longer locks Sunday.
The wins, Franchitti said, are like "comparing our two dogs. You can't."
Laughing, he added, "We need a third dog."
Sunday, Franchitti joined Helio Castroneves as the only active drivers with more than one Indy victory. Castroneves lost his chance to win a record-tying fourth when he stalled his car during a pit stop on lap 144.
Franchitti led 155 of the 200 laps and controlled most of the race. But he didn't have a victory waltz; it was more of a soft shoe.
Low on fuel in the final laps, Franchitti slowed down as much as he could while trying to keep Dan Wheldon and others at bay.
Wheldon finished second for the second straight year. Franchitti made Chip Ganassi, a four-time Indy winner, the first car owner to win this race and the Daytona 500 in the same year. Jamie McMurray was the driver in the latter, in February.
Franchitti's date with Indy destiny was assured when Mike Conway's car catapulted over the left-side tires of Ryan Hunter-Reay, slamming into the third-turn catch fence to bring out the caution. With pieces of Conway's car strewn all over the Speedway's north short chute , Franchitti only had to watch where he was going and complete the final lap.
After a cool-down lap and a tire burnout, his gas gauge read 1.6 gallons. That was plenty.
Conway's flight had everyone among the estimated crowd of 250,000 scared, but he suffered only a broken lower left leg. Two spectators were treated for minor injuries in the aftermath of the incident.
Franchitti was relieved. "You can fix that," he said.
Hunter-Reay surveyed the damage to his car - to the front and to the rear - and couldn't believe he wasn't hurt, too.
"Thank God it didn't take my head off," he said.
Their crash was one of eight but the only one with injury.
The race's first lap saw Davey Hamilton slide into the infield wall, and he blamed Tomas Scheckter for cutting him off. Bruno Junqueira, the fastest of the second-day qualifiers, crashed in the second turn on lap eight. John Andretti later crashed in the same spot.
Ryan Briscoe (turn four) and rookie Sebastian Saavedra (turn one) also saw their races end early with wall contact.
Franchitti seemed to have the fastest car in the hot afternoon sun, but he benefited from the mistakes of others. No. 2 starter Will Power tried to drive out of his pit box with his fuel hose attached; fluid sprayed everywhere, and he was penalized. Later, Power overshot his pit box, requiring his team to push him back into fueling position.
Castroneves entered the race as a co-favorite with Scott Dixon, and Dixon's day was plagued by a mistake, too. The Ganassi crew allowed him to leave the pits without the left front wheel properly attached, and it came off. That was lap 67, and the same thing happened to Raphael Matos, who was third at the time.
Like Briscoe, Matos later crashed. Three other drivers were black-flagged for blocking.
Franchitti remembered Ganassi preaching a race without a mistake, and his crew didn't have one. Franchitti passed Power and then Castroneves for the lead on the first lap and never looked back.
It was fitting that in the first year of IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, Franchitti compared his day to riding a wild bull.
"My car was a handful, but it was fast, and if it's fast I can hang onto it," he said.
Team leader Mike Hull compared Franchitti's energy to that of "a 20-year-old," something that Franchitti won't argue . He said he approaches every day like it's an extra, and that's how he feels about this victory, too.
"I expected to retire when I was 35," he said. "This is all bonus, and it's pretty cool."