Taken by Storm
Monday, May 28, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS, May 27 -- Dario Franchitti finally got the news he had been waiting for.
"The rain is eight blocks away," he recalled hearing over his radio.
Franchitti had stayed on the track during a late caution, anticipating another round of thunderstorms -- and the gamble paid off. The Scotsman, who is probably best known as actress Ashley Judd's husband, won the Indianapolis 500, arguably the world's biggest race, when it was halted by rain 34 laps from its scheduled end.
Scott Dixon finished second at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway while two-time winner Helio Castroneves battled back from an early mishap on pit lane to grab third.
As Franchitti celebrated with Judd in the rain-soaked winner's circle, at least a half dozen other drivers, including Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Castroneves, were left to ponder 'What if?' They all had fast cars, and at various times appeared capable of winning. Yet, for one reason or another, they were unable to capitalize.
"I'm definitely in shock," said Franchitti, who is expected to earn about $1.5 million for the victory. "Our roll of the dice proved to be the lucky one. We knew the rain was coming. We just hoped we had enough fuel. And we did."
Kanaan nearly found himself in his best friend's place. The Brazilian led a race-high 83 laps -- 49 more than Franchitti -- and was ahead when the race was halted after 112 laps, enough to make it official.
But after a 2-hour 57-minute delay, the cars were ordered back on the track.
Franchitti, 34, inherited the lead when Kanaan and defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. headed to pit lane on Lap 155 for what they hoped would be their final stop. Shortly after the restart, Jacques Lazier hit the wall, and Kanaan spun while trying to avoid him. Moments later, Marco Andretti crashed, flipping upside down. Then, the rain returned, ending the race after 166 of the scheduled 200 laps. It marked the eighth time the Indy 500 has been shortened by rain.
"My big disappointment will be if we knew we weren't going to finish 200 laps, why would we continue?" said Kanaan, who finished second to Buddy Rice when the 2004 race was abbreviated by rain. "We'll get another chance and hopefully we'll get the win."
Marco Andretti, who avoided injury but wound up 24th, said: "I was upside down, praying to God. I'm one lucky guy."
Andretti's father, Michael, who has led more laps than anyone who has never won at Indy, finished 13th. It was his 16th and likely final start at the Brickyard.
Much of the prerace hype surrounded the record three women in the field. They had mixed results. Danica Patrick, as expected, had by far the best run and challenged for the lead several times.
Patrick would have finished third had the race not resumed after the lengthy rain delay, but instead wound up eighth. She was among the drivers who pitted while Franchitti stayed out.
"I had a fast car," she said. "And it was a good day except for some bad luck in the end. Then the rain came and I was in the wrong place. Another year of frustration where I really thought I had a chance to win. But I'm glad that in all the mix-up at the end, with the fuel stops and the rain, that [my Andretti Green Racing teammate] won and not someone else."
The other women, also as expected, struggled. Sarah Fisher started 21st and finished 18th in mediocre equipment. Milka Duno, the least experienced driver in the field, lost control of her car, smacked the wall on Lap 66 and finished 31st.
"I enjoyed every single moment in Indianapolis," Duno said. "It was a place I always wanted to be. I am here. I qualified and was part of the group. It's difficult to describe with words."
A sentimental favorite, Davey Hamilton, finished ninth after starting 20th. Hamilton was driving an Indy car for the first time since nearly losing both legs in a wreck at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001.
As for Franchitti, his fifth Indy car win was easily the most significant of his career. Perhaps big enough so that he won't be known merely as Judd's husband anymore.
"It's pinnacle of my career, it's massive," Franchitti said. "It's awesome."
Judd, soaking wet and wearing a floral patterned sundress and hat, ran barefoot down the front straightaway to greet Franchitti before he steered his No. 27 Honda-powered Dallara into the winner's circle.
"My shoes had gotten kind of dangerous because they were so wet," a jubilant Judd told a throng of reporters. "I was hoping he would win, rain or no rain."
But there's no guarantee that he would have. Castroneves, who led 19 laps but fell as far back as 29th when his fueling rig malfunctioned, was pushing hard at the end.
"I was going for it," Castroneves said. "I had a lot at the end, especially with new tires. But it wasn't meant to be for us. It's just a shame we didn't have one more restart."