Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dario Franchitti wins third Indy 500 in honor of Dan Wheldon

INDIANAPOLIS — The back seat of the convertible was just wide enough for a third passenger beside Dario Franchitti, the 39-year-old Scot who had just won his third Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, and Ashley Judd, the actor who is Franchitti's wife.

So they spontaneously invited Susie Wheldon, wearing white sunglasses, for Franchitti's victory lap.

Her husband and their friend, St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, had won the Indy 500 only a year earlier, but was killed in a racing accident in October at Las Vegas.

"I tell you what: She's a stronger person than I am to come here," Franchitti said two hours later.

Though the temperature had topped 90 degrees, a large portion of the crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stayed to bathe the three in cheers as they passed. Las Vegas, Franchitti said, was the lowest of the lows. The victory lap was the reason he returns to the racetrack.

Franchitti, the 2007 and 2010 Indy champion, overcame a spin after his first pit stop that dropped him way down in the field, then won a exhilarating last-lap duel with Takuma Sato.

Sato tried to dart inside Franchitti's red Honda-powered car entering Turn 1 of the famous 21/2-mile oval, but Sato lost control, spun and thudded into the white outside wall. Franchitti kept his foot on the gas.

He won under caution, crossing the finish line ahead of Scott Dixon, his Chip Ganassi teammate, and gregarious Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who took the lead earlier with an audacious pass that carried him past four drivers. That was part of a daylong pattern that saw trailing drivers draft off of lead cars and fly by. Franchitti and Dixon alone traded the lead 10 times among themselves in the final 41 laps.

"We were like sitting ducks, man," Dixon said.

It was not lost on Franchitti that Dixon and Kanaan were also good friends with Wheldon, and he joked afterward that Wheldon would have laughed at these three drivers going at it.

"His three best friends were fighting for the win, odds are one of us would do it," Kanaan said. "I tried everything I could to do it. I haven't done it yet. To lose this one, like this, is an honor."

The love that the fans showed for Franchitti and Susie Wheldon on the victory lap got to him. Wheldon will not be forgotten, but it was as if a door had been closed, with a tight race won by a contemporary, rival and friend of Wheldon's.

"It meant a lot that Suze was able to come around with us today," Franchitti said.

It was Susie Wheldon's first trip to any race track since her husband's death. She watched from Dixon's pit stand with his wife, Emma.

Marco Andretti, with a Chevrolet engine, led a race-high 59 laps, all in the first half of the race. But he dropped back and for the most part the final 250 miles belonged to Honda, which looked awful in qualifying.

"There were a lot of unknowns going into today's race," Ganassi said. "It turned out the be what I thought, a great race. There was a hell of a lot of passing going on."

Sato, who drives for the team co-owned by 1986 Indy champion Bobby Rahal and late-night talk-show host David Letterman, was also in the mix through the late laps. When Franchitti passed Dixon for the lead with two laps left, Sato came with him and took second, setting up the dramatic ending. But Sato's final move didn't work in the end.

"You do not play Dario like that," Kanaan said of Sato. "He should know better than that."

Franchitti got through it, and later took another spin through Turn 1 at a much slower speed, on the back of that convertible with his wife and a special invited guest.

Dan Wheldon liked to wear white sunglasses, and Franchitti made sure to wear a pair, too.

"What a race! I think D-dub would be proud of that one."

Dario Franchitti on Dan Wheldon, who was honored by fans and drivers wearing his favored white sunglasses

Dario Franchitti wins third Indy 500 in honor of Dan Wheldon 05/27/12 [Last modified: Sunday, May 27, 2012 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Four key games that could decide Bucs' success in 2017


    The Bucs finished so close to making the playoffs in 2016 -- literally flip-flop the last two results and have them beat the Saints and lose to the Panthers and they're in as a wild card with the same 9-7 record -- that it's difficult to say with any certainty what will happen in the 2017 season.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, shown celebrating a touchdown against the Giants in 2015, will face New York again this fall in Week 4 in Tampa.
  2. Frank Deford wrote with sincerity, giving depth to complicated sports figures

    Human Interest

    Frank Deford practically invented the notion of multimedia: He exported his voice to radio, TV and film, and if you didn't know him you might have thought he was an actor, because he wore purple suits and looked like Clark Gable. But Frank, who died Sunday at age 78, was a writer above all things, and an important …

    In a 1991 photo, Frank Deford holds a proof of The National Sports Daily, of which he was editor and publisher [Associated Press]
  3. Clarity coming this week on Florida Gators, Malik Zaire


    After months of speculation, we could finally get some clarity this week on the Florida Gators and graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire.

    SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.
  4. Jose De Leon sent back to minors after helping Rays win


    RHP Jose De Leon worked 2 2/3 innings to get the win in his Rays debut Monday and then was optioned back to Triple-A Durham.

    De Leon was brought up to provide length and depth in the bullpen after the Rays played 15 innings on Sunday, and he did that, allowing three runs on four hits while throwing 69 …

  5. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.