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Rain, wrecks cannot dent Dario's dream day

Dario Franchitti is out front when rain halts the race for good, giving him his first 500 win.

By BRANT JAMES
Published May 28, 2007


INDIANAPOLIS - George Franchitti enjoys a round of golf as much as any Scotsman, and he was understandably excited when he stroked his first hole-in-one last week at the Brickyard Crossing course within Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Seventh hole, 154 yards, 7-iron, one bounce, two bounces, in there.

Then Michael Andretti sucked all the fun out of it.

"He said, 'What are you doing? You've used up all of your family luck,' " boomed Franchitti, his eyes wide.

George's son, Dario, would drive one of five Andretti Green Racing cars on Sunday in the 91st Indianapolis 500.

There apparently was enough luck for everyone.

With a second wave of showers bearing down, and able to gamble on fuel because of an early misfortune, Franchitti stayed out to take the lead as the leaders pitted and held on when the skies opened for his fifth IRL win and first at Indy.

"What can I say? I'm in shock right now," Franchitti, 34, said.

Scott Dixon was second, and two-time winner Helio Castroneves was third in a race that went 166 of a scheduled 200 laps. Franchitti led 34, decisively on Lap 137 during a pit sequence.

Best known as the husband of actor Ashley Judd, he now has mainstream fame all his own. But he gladly accepted her congratulations after she ran barefoot and drenched down pit road to meet him. "He doesn't always get the credit he deserves," she said. "I'm glad he did it when the stage was so large and the world was with him."

Franchitti had cut a tire when the race was halted because of rain on Lap 112. He had to pit at the restart on Lap 114, fell off-sequence with most of the field and made his last stop on Lap 143.

"Then the strategy, our roll of the dice proved to be the lucky one," he said. "We got in front, made a couple of good stops, and then the rain came."

A pack, a thunderhead and some trouble massed behind him on a restart on Lap 161.

AGR teammate Tony Kanaan led a race-high eight times for 83 laps, including when the race was first red-flagged because of rain. He and Castroneves diced for the lead through the first 40 laps until a fueling problem delayed Castroneves on a pit stop. The Penske driver dropped out of the lead to 29th on Lap 41.

Kanaan was sixth after a Lap 155 pit stop. But he spun out of control and damaged his car trying to miss Jaques Lazier coming to the green flag. Kanaan was penalized for changing all four tires instead of just the damaged one when pit road was closed, and finished 12th. He drove down pit road to avoid prompting a caution, but soon after teammate Marco Andretti clipped wheels with Dan Wheldon, went airborne and flipped upside down on the backstretch. Andretti, who ran with the leaders most of the day, was unhurt.

"I'm one lucky guy," he said.

While crews were cleaning up that accident, the rain fell again, halting the race for good.

Kanaan easily passed Andretti for the lead on a Lap 107 restart. Andretti, who last year was passed by Sam Hornish in the final 100 yards to finish second by 0.064 seconds, had no chance to defend the position from his teammate.

A caution flag flew soon after and the race was halted for nearly three hours at Lap 112, with Kanaan first, Andretti second and AGR's Danica Patrick third.

"You put all of your eggs in one basket. This thing comes along once a year," Franchitti said. "It really hit me after Lap 113, when we thought the race was finished, that's it. We figured that was a chance gone for this year."

George Franchitti retired from ice cream-making and took up golf when his son landed a job in the CART series in 1997. Before then, "I had to work to pay for motor racing," for Dario and his brother Marino, an American Le Mans Series driver.

His sporting luck can be exhausted for all he cares. Celtic won the Scottish FA Cup Saturday. He has a hole-in-one and his son won the Indianapolis 500.

"That'll do," he said.