Franchitti's victory popular, particularly with teammates

Dario Franchitti won the Indy 500 on Sunday, proving again that sometimes nice guys do finish first, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: May 28, 2007, 12:50 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dario Franchitti knew he had one chance to win the Indianapolis 500: Stay on the track and pray the rain came again before his fuel ran dry.

That decision changed his life. Franchitti, in many ways the forgotten man at Andretti Green Racing, won the Indy 500 by playing his hand perfectly at the end.

It's been a long time coming for a man who has spent 11 seasons as a competitive open-wheel racer but never quite made it to the center ring.

His big day finally came. Franchitti joins his hero, Jim Clark, as the only Scotsmen to win at Indy.

His victory Sunday ended one of the longest days in Indy 500 history, six hours that included waiting, wondering and guessing about what would happen when rain stopped the race for three hours.

A cut tire actually worked in Franchitti's favor. He had to pit under caution before the race went green again after the weather delay, falling to 13th.

He was third when the yellow flew on Lap 155, but stayed on the track when the men ahead of him -- teammate Tony Kanaan and defending Indy 500 champ Sam Hornish Jr. -- pitted.

"It's like a toss of the coin," said John Anderson, Franchitti's race strategist. "We weren't coming in."

Most of the drama revolved around the AGR drivers. Kanaan was the unhappiest man at the Brickyard when the race restarted.

Kanaan passed AGR teammate Marco Andretti on a restart moments before a caution and six laps before rain halted the race on Lap 113 of the scheduled 200 laps.

Marco's day would end with a thrill ride he didn't want, flipping upside down before landing back on the tires.

Two Indy 500s, two unbelievable endings for the youngest Andretti driver. He was seconds from winning it last year as a rookie when Hornish zoomed by him as they reached the checkered flag.

At 20, Marco already has almost surpassed his father and grandfather for Indy disappointment, and that's saying something.

Dario deserves this. He's been such a big part of this team since day one, and he's been a big part of getting us where we are today.

Michael Andretti

The Andretti curse in the Indy 500 is one thing, but this is ridiculous. First the weather gods conspired against Marco, then he got airborne in the most terrifying moment of the day.

"I'm one lucky guy," Marco said. "I was upside-down just praying to God. If I had gone through that and someone else had won, I wouldn't be happy. But I'm so proud of Dario."

What's clear is how much all the AGR drivers respect Franchitti. Kanaan, who appeared to have the best car most of the day, jumped up and hugged Franchitti in the victory celebration.

"I love you, man," Kanaan said.

Danica Patrick gave Franchitti a kiss, smiled and said "Congratulations." And despite another day that continued the Andretti jinx at Indy, team owner Michael Andretti had an enormous smile on his face as he greeted Franchitti after the win.

"Can you believe it?" Franchitti asked Michael.

Good things really do happen to good people.

"Dario deserves this," Michael said. "He's been such a big part of this team since day one, and he's been a big part of getting us where we are today."

But Franchitti, 34, is the AGR driver who often stands in the shadows while others are in the limelight, especially at Indy.

Michael Andretti was the man still trying to earn that elusive Indy victory. He finished 13th in what he says probably was his last run on the 2.5-mile rectangle.

Marco was the kid hoping to make up for his 2006 disappointment. Kanaan was the former IndyCar Series champion hoping to earn his first Indy victory after coming close three of the past four years.

And Patrick? Do we even have to explain her appeal? Patrick had another impressive run at Indy. She was third when the rain delay came but finished eighth.

Dario Franchitti
Rob Carr/AP PhotoDario Franchitti and his wife Ashley Judd celebrate in Victory Lane after his win in the Indianapolis 500.

Then there's Franchitti, the quiet veteran who does his job without much fanfare. After all these years, people still mispronounce his name. It's Fran-Key-tee, not Fran-Chee-tee.

After going winless in 2006, Franchitti contemplated whether he wanted to come back.

"I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," Franchitti said. "Now I'm not going to retire any time soon. I tell you, one of the things that really helps me is to have a 20-year-old teammate. Seriously. To see life through Marco's eyes is pretty cool."

Franchitti is happy to let Marco and Danica receive the media hype. Most of the attention Franchitti gets comes because his wife is actress Ashley Judd.

Judd went bonkers when the race was called with 34 laps to go. Her hair soaked and her dress drenched in the downpour, Judd ran barefoot down pit road to greet her husband as he got out of the car.

"My husband is gifted," Judd said on TV. "I can tell you right now what's he's thinking about. It's the great Jim Clark."

Clark, one of the top Formula One racers of his era, won the Indy 500 in 1965. Clark died three years later in a crash in Germany, five years before Franchitti was born.

"That's one reason I was pissed at not winning here in 2005," said Franchitti, who finished sixth that year after leading five times. "It was the 40-year anniversary of Clark's victory."

It took two more years and a soul-searching decision to keep racing. But Franchitti finally found his golden moment. Even on a team of stars, he's the top guy now.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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