Dario Franchitti Wins a Spectacular Indy 500

5/27/12 in IndyCar   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

May 27, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti celebrates in victory lane after winning the 2012 Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIREIt was a long day with near record heat, and record lead changes. In the end though, it was Dario Franchitti who took the checkered flag first, becoming the 10th driver to win at least three Indy 500s. Target Chip Ganassi Racing certainly dominates the sport at times, but this was far from a ho-hum blow out by them. Once again, we had drama on the last lap, as Takuma Sato nearly won it from Dario. We'll get to that though, as there were so many other highlights to discuss.

The start was as great as any I've ever seen at Indy. They actually stayed three wide at the start, and despite that, made it through cleanly. From there, the knife fight began. All throughout the field, people were making moves, including up front. Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe spent the first few laps trading the lead, and the lead changes kept coming for a new race record of 35, most of which were on the track, not in the pits. Kudos to everyone involved in the development of the DW12. They've produced a real racy car.

The first pit stops came during the first caution, a spin by Bryan Clauson. During said pit stop, Franchitti was punted in pit lane by the infamous EJ Viso. The move resulted in Dario dropping to the very back of the pack, 29th at the time. Dario spent the long green flag stint that followed charging his way back to the front. In no time, he was back in the top 10 and back in the race.

Around lap 80, we had our scariest incident of the race, when Mike Conway spun and hit the wall. Will Power was behind him and tried to avoid him, but guessed wrong and hit Conway. The contact put Conway airborne and into the catch fence, with Power rolling right under him. Helio has a moment too in this incident, as he barely avoided a loose tire. Luckily, everyone involved was OK, and Helio moved on to finish 10th (but a surprising non-factor all day).

For a while, it looked liked it would be Marco Andretti's day, but his car started to vibrate in the second half of the race and faded, much to his annoyance. Then it looked it would be all Team Ganassi, as Dario and Scott Dixon swapped the lead for a while. However, others would make their mark late, and no one would more so than Tony Kanaan. On a late restart (due to an Ed Carpenter spin), TK went from 5th to 1st by turn one.

The fans went nuts, as all could hear from TV. TK truly is the People's Champ. Unfortunately, there would be one more caution with 13 to go, as Marco's late race collapse finished with him hitting the wall. Kanaan would lead the field for the restart, and as the whole race had showed, leading at the restart meant you were a sitting duck. That's exactly what happened to TK, who dropped to 4th, getting passed by Dario, Dixon, and Sato. This set up the incredible finish.

First, Sato's move on Dixon to take 2nd was as amazing a pass as you'll see at Indy. He kept creeping on Dario was in position to win as the white flag flied. However, having looked at the replay multiple times, I feel Sato made his move too late in the front stretch. Some say Dario blocked, but really he gave Sato some room, and on the last lap of the friggin' Indy 500, that's all the room he was going to get. If Dario went any further up, he would've risked getting out of the groove and into the wall. In the end, it was a racing incident between two guys going all out to try and win the biggest race of the world.

Some are not happy Dario won, and admittedly I wasn't rooting for him. However, he came back from the early pit incident and worked his way back up to the front, and he did it by passing cars on the track, not through any special strategy. That's the mark of the true racer and a great and worthy champion. Congrats to Dario Franchitti on his 3rd Indianapolis 500 title. Fitting, Dario wore the white sunglasses in tribute to Dan Wheldon. It was also fitting that Dan's three best friends in racing, Dario, Dixon, and TK, finished 1-2-3. With the first Indy 500 since Dan's death in the books, hopefully the feelings were become less raw, although of course he will never, ever be forgotten.

In the end, though, this was as memorable Indy 500 as I can remember. There was action throughout the whole race, with many different drivers that had a chance to win as the race went on, and finally concluding with an unforgettable finish. On the one day of the year IndyCar has the eyeballs of the country, they put on a great, fan friendly show. Hopefully that's a plus going forward. A year from now will be the 97th running of the Greatest Spectacle of Racing. The countdown starts now.
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