By Tom Reck
Dario Franchitti avoided problems all day and had just enough fuel at the finish Sunday to win the Indianapolis 500 for the second time.
The 37-year-old Scotsman, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., led the final nine laps and 155 laps total in the Target Ganassi Racing No. 10 car and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his fourth victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Ganassi made some history, becoming the first team owner to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same year; Ganassi driver Jamie McMurray won the NASCAR race in February.
“This means so much. To come back after going away [to NASCAR] for a year, win a championship and win the Indy 500,” said Franchitti, who won a rain-shortened race in 2007 with Andretti Green Racing and nipped teammate Scott Dixon for the IZOD IndyCar Series title last year.
“My car was a handful but it was a fast handful. I am so lucky to be back with Chip and Team Target. I expected to be retired at 35,” said Franchitti.
After his last pit stop with 27 laps to go, Franchitti trailed some drivers who did not pit at the same time including Mike Conway, Justin Wilson and Helio Castroneves.
He won Sunday’s race under caution after Conway smacked into the car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final lap. Conway was taken to Methodist Hospital for tests, possibly suffering a leg injury.
Franchitti basically had his Team Target No. 10 car in control most of the race after starting third but immediately assuming the lead. His 155 laps in front is the most since Juan Pablo Montoya led 167 in 2000 and ninth most in race history.
“Up until 10 laps to go, I was pretty relaxed. Then all hell broke loose with fuel savings and all. I just needed to know what the other guys were doing. If they were saving more than me, they were doing something special here,” said Franchitti.
“It was a little dicey there at the end. Dario saved fuel when he had to … we had 1.6 gallons of fuel left at the end. Dario is a champion, a constant professional,” said Ganassi.
Castroneves was hoping to become the fourth driver to win the race four times and challenged Franchitti early but was hurt by a stall in the pits. He started from the pole but was passed by Franchitti on the first lap.
The Team Penske driver led one lap late, just before pitting to add fuel, and finished ninth.
Former winner Dan Wheldon finished second with Marco Andretti third, Alex Lloyd fourth, Scott Dixon fifth and Danica Patrick sixth.
Patrick now has five Top-10 finishes in six starts and had the top finish of the four women in the race. Mario Romancini had the highest finish of the six rookies, placing 13th, while Simona de Silvestro was 14th.
There was a delay in issuing final results of the race since some drivers passed Andretti under the final yellow.
In spite of Will Power finishing eighth and Castroneves ninth, it was a frustrating day for Team Penske.
Power was hampered early by a penalty before Castroneves had his problems in the pits, and Ryan Briscoe made contact with the wall on the 148th lap.
“As a team, we made too many mistakes today. We had our first stop go wrong. I went long and then we had a wheel problem in another. You can’t win this race when you keep dropping back,” said Power.
“We were having a good run … it was really slick out there and we just added some downforce to the car. But we were on cold tires and just got up into the marbles,” said Briscoe.
Temperature at the start of the race was 90 degrees with little breeze. Firestone engineers said track temperature was 126 degrees.
Later reports were that the temperature had increased to 96 degrees and was 131 degrees on the track, making it the hottest Indy 500 race ever.