Franchitti Wins 3rd Indy 500

35 Lead Changes Breaks Indianapolis 500 Record

Dario Franchitti won his third Indianapolis 500 under caution as Takuma Sato spun out while trying to pass him on the final lap of a frenetic race that broke the record for the number of lead changes with 34.

Franchitti and Scott Dixon had a stranglehold on the lead in the final laps, but Sato passed Dixon just before the final lap. Sato then tried to dip under Franchitti in the first turn, but spun out and struck the wall.

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Sato claimed that Franchitti didn't give him room to pass.

"It looks like he didn't give me enough room to go there," Sato said. "I was a little below the white line. I had nowhere to go."

Franchitti's day got off to a difficult start, with some trouble in the pits early on, where he was tagged by E.J. Viso. That put Franchitti near the back of the pack. His car was strong, though, and Franchitti quickly got back into contention by turning quick laps.

Franchitti's win came on a day when fans and drivers alike were mindful of Dan Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 last year, months before a crash at the Las Vegas Speedway that claimed his life.

"I just want to dedicate this to Indianapolis' finest, Dan Wheldon," an emotional Franchitti said moments after the race. "He (Sato) got loose under me."

Teammate Scott Dixon finished second, with Tony Kanaan, also RTV6's driver analyst for the month, finishing in third.

"We were in a pretty good position toward the end," Dixon said. "(Dario) did a hell of a job today."

"It was three best friends fighting for the win. One of us was going to do it," Kanaan said. "(Dan's) three best friends were in the top three."

Oriol Servia finished in fourth, and polesitter Ryan Briscoe came in fifth.

Wheldon's wife, Susie, went to Victory Lane to congratulate Franchitti, who hid his tears of joy behind a pair of white sunglasses worn in tribute because they were Wheldon's preference. She then sat next to Franchitti's wife, actress Ashley Judd, in the backseat of the convertible -- the same seat she had a year ago for Wheldon's win -- for the victory lap around the 2.5-mile oval.

The entire day was a tribute to Wheldon, beginning with car owner Bryan Herta driving a single parade lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the car Wheldon drove to victory last year. Fans were given white sunglasses to wear on laps 26 and 98, marking the car numbers Wheldon used in his two wins.

It was Susie Wheldon's first trip to any race track since her husband's Oct. 16 death, and she watched from Dixon's pit stand with his wife, Emma. It was the Dixons who relocated after the accident to St. Petersburg, Fla., to provide comfort and support for Susie and her two sons in the months after the accident.

So it was fitting on this hot day -- the temperature hit 91 degrees, just one shy of the Indy 500 record -- that one of the most competitive races in history ended with a frantic push from Wheldon's friends. Ten drivers swapped the lead 35 times, shattering the record of 29 in the 1960 race won by Jim Rathmann.

Until the last lap, when Sato made his move for the win, the race was close but uneventful.

The only multi-car accident came when a spin by Mike Conway collected Will Power, who came into the race as the series points leader and winner of the last three races this season. It was a somewhat frightening accident as Conway, who broke his front wing when he hit one of his crew members on pit road, hit the outside wall and his car tilted on its side before coming to rest. And Helio Castroneves had to deftly maneuver past a bouncing tire that still grazed one of his own wheels.

Besides that, though, the race was slowed by just eight cautions -- including the one on the last lap -- for 39 of the 200 laps.

Marco Andretti, who went into Sunday believing the race "is mine to lose," was strong at the start, but a series of adjustments were not to his liking and he unraveled on his team radio before spinning to bring out the final caution with 13 laps remaining.

Franchitti and Dixon battled back and forth in the final third of the race, with Sato consistently in the mix. Then came Kanaan, from nowhere it seemed, but he was unable to hang on to the lead on the restart after Marco Andretti's crash brought out the yellow with 13 laps to go.

Andretti said the wreck "definitely rang my bell."

Everyone thought the race would go to a Chevrolet driver for either Andretti Autosport or Penske Racing, which won the first four races of the season and swept the front two rows in qualifying. But in the end, it was three Hondas fighting for their first win of the season.

After the restart with six laps remaining, Franchitti pulled past Dixon for the final time. Sato went with him and slid in front of Dixon to split the Ganassi teammates. The Japanese then went for the lead going into the first turn, pulling even with Franchitti. But he went in too low, the cars touched, and the crash sent him into the outside wall.

Sato's car barely missed Franchitti, who coasted across the line under a yellow caution flag to become the 10th driver to win at least three Indy 500s. All three of Franchitti's wins have ended under caution.

This was the second year in a row that a crash on the final lap affected the outcome. In 2011, rookie JR Hildebrand was leading going into the final turn when his car slammed into the wall, allowing Wheldon to cruise past and take the checkered flag.

"I was side by side with Takuma," Franchitti said. "We hit, and I managed to keep it out of trouble."

It snaps a disappointing start to the season for Franchitti, who has won the last three championships but seemed stumped by IndyCar's new car through the first four races. In breaking out Sunday for his 31st victory, he's now in a tie with Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy on the all-time wins list.

One more win will move Franchitti into seventh place in the record books. The only drivers ahead of him? The giants of open-wheel racing: three Unsers, two Andrettis and A.J. Foyt, the all-time wins leader.

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