INDIANAPOLIS — Dario Franchitti stamped his name in the record books, the latest three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
But this was not about Franchitti: It was all for Dan Wheldon.
Franchitti won a wheel-to-wheel, last-lap battle Sunday, sailing away to the checkered flag when Takuma Sato spun out trying to make one last pass on the inside and slammed into the wall. Franchitti's Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon crossed the finish line right behind the Scotsman.
Third went to Tony Kanaan, making it a podium sweep for Wheldon's three closest friends in the IndyCar series. Wheldon, the defending race winner and a two-time champ, was killed in the October season finale, and the entire day was in honor of D-dub, their fallen friend.
“Everybody up there was a friend of Dan's, and that about sums it up. Everybody loved him,” said Franchitti as bagpipes played over the public address system.
“What a race! What a race!” Franchitti said. “I think D-dub would be proud of that one.”
Kanaan, who used a bold move on a late restart to dart from fifth to first, couldn't hold off Franchitti and Dixon on the last restart. It left him winless in 11 career attempts at Indy, but he was OK with the final result.
“Actually it was good for Dan, his three best friends fighting for the win,” Kanaan said. “Danny, wherever he is right now, I think he's extremely happy. His three best friends in the top three.”
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 from 1937 — 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.