Dario Franchitti had 1.6 gallons left after winning Sunday’s Indy 500. That equals about six miles or just over two laps on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway track but it was just enough to hold off Dan Wheldon.
INDIANAPOLIS – You bet Dario Franchitti was worried. He saw Tony Kanaan, the driver he had dreamed would battle him to an Indy 500 furious finish, right behind him. Then it was Dan Wheldon coming up fast. Mostly, though, it was something he couldn’t see – his remaining fuel.
For the record, Franchitti had 1.6 gallons left after winning Sunday’s Indy 500. That equals about six miles or just over two laps on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway track.
“My biggest worry,” he said after worries were over, “was running out of fuel.”
Franchitti dominated like no driver had since Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2000 while leading 167 laps. Franchitti led 155 laps, 121 more than he did while winning in 2007.
“From the first lap my car was fast,” he said. “It was a handful, but it was a fast handful.”
Franchitti became the eighth two-time Indy 500 winner. Nine others have won three or more times.
The victory was vindication after Franchitti’s one-year NASCAR experiment with owner Chip Ganassi ended after just 10 races in 2008. He joined Ganassi’s IndyCar team starting in 2009.
“If we make a mistake, we move on,” Ganassi said. “I thought he was the best driver available when the (IndyCar) seat came open. He still is. His NASCAR experience, it was like a semester at sea. We did it. We’re glad we did it, but we’re glad we’re back home.”
Fuel conservation came into play at the end when action heated up along with track temperatures that topped 131 degrees.
“Until 10 laps to go, I was pretty relaxed,” Franchitti said. “Then all hell broke loose with fuel saving.”
Contenders tried to stretch their fuel. Marco Andretti was told he needed to average 4.0 miles per gallon to make it. He was at 3.2. Helio Castroneves needed a caution to make it. With eight laps left and nearly six seconds in front, the defending champ couldn’t wait any more and pitted. He finished ninth. Kanaan had roared back from last to second in his attempt to become the first driver to win after starting 33rd. History was within reach until, with four laps left, he got the order to pit. He finished 11th.
Franchitti, who had dominated with 220-plus mph laps, went conservative. He dropped to 215, 206 and 202. He won under caution from the final-lap crash involving Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway. He finished just ahead of Wheldon.
In the first 110 laps there were five cautions, four accidents, three black flags, two botched pit stops (including one front tire not secured on contender Scott Dixon’s car) and one name-calling incident (Davey Hamilton called Tomas Scheckter “an idiot” and a “knucklehead” following Hamilton’s first-lap crash).
Wheldon, last year’s runner-up, came in under the radar after starting 18th. But he moved into second with five laps left and thought he had the fuel to take Franchitti if the yellow flag hadn’t come out.
“We’ll never know,” he said. “I thought the last lap would be the opportunity to pick him off, but when the yellow came out, Dario was saved.”
Andretti Autosport, a qualifying disaster with Marco Andretti the best by starting 16th and Kanaan starting last, redeemed itself with Andretti finishing third and Danica Patrick finishing sixth. It was Patrick’s third top-six Indy 500 finish and second straight.
The last crash was as spectacular as it was frightening. Conway’s car went airborne after hitting Hunter-Reay’s car and disintegrated after smashing into the wall between Turns 3 and 4. Hunter-Reay wasn’t injured. Conway was airlifted to Methodist Hospital with a broken left leg.