Another Last Lap Thriller
There were many, myself included, that followed the school of thought that this year’s race would fall short of the excitement generated by Dan Wheldon’s improbable victory. While it certainly wasn’t as much of a stretch for Chip Ganassi Racing to win the Indianapolis 500 as it was for Bryan Herta Autosport – this race did not lack for drama. There was the excitemnt of the last thirty laps where it seemed that anyone could win. There was also plenty of heartbreak. Ed Carpenter spun while charging to the front in the late going. Then, there was Takuma Sato’s last-lap crash while going for the lead – essentially handing the win to Dario Franchitti.
But Franchitti did not back into this win – quite the contrary. He earned this win. After spinning in the pits on Lap Fifteen, the Nashville area resident rejoined the field at the back of the pack. The Honda engine was strong today and Franchitti started picking off cars immediately. I kept seeing car No. 50 consistently climb the scoring pylon. Soon, it was Dario and Dixon up front. This was not a clever pit strategy – Dario was at the rear of the field and passed cars in earnest and worked his way up. This was no fluke.
I used to be a Franchitti fan when he ran in CART and during his Andretti-Green days, but when he crossed over to the evil empire of Chip Ganassi Racing and grew his hair – I’ve found it hard to cheer for him. But I can certainly appreciiate his greatness. In his last five 500’s, Franchitti has won three times. He has also won the series championship every year he has driven in the series since 2007. We are witnessing greatness.
Which brings me to my next point. I have been coming to this track for a long time – a very long time. Since 1965, I’ve seen more races than I care to count – even though I had a twenty year span where I saw no races here. In all that time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard an Indianapolis 500 winner booed as he took the checkered flag – until today, that is. Franchitti was not my first choice to win the race, but as he crossed the line under yellow to clinch his third victory here – I applauded and cheered as more of a salute. I was one of the few. My section in the Pit Road Terrace was filled with boo-birds, who booed mightily as Dario drove past our section waving his fist in celebration. It seemed that it was the same across the track in Stand A.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I never once thought about booing Franchitti or any other winner that I wasn’t a fan of. Emerson Fittipaldi received plenty of boos when he initially refused to drink the milk in 1993, but that was a different situation. Fans felt he was being disrespectful to the traditions of the Indianapolis 500. Dario Franchitti has embraced this place and respected all of the traditions of the race we cherish. He is a world class driver and I was more than just a little disturbed to see a three-time winner booed for doing his job. As I type, I’ve just had it suggested to me that the replays show Dario drove Takuma Sato in to the grass. I just saw the replay and I don’t think so. Maybe that was the reason for the boos, but I still think it was uncalled for. At least he wasn’t pelted with beer cans like he would have been at a NASCAR race.
My pick for the race, and the one I was personally pulling for, was Tony Kanaan. He gave the place a thrill as he went from fifth to first on a re-start on Lap 187. It wouldn’t last, though. Marco Andretti brushed the wall, bringing out another caution. I told the crew I was sitting with that would feel more comfortable with Kanaan in second, rather than leading. As it turned out, I was right. Franchitti blew past him on the next restart. He ultimately finished third, but received probably the biggest ovation of the day when he took the lead. This wasn’t his best chance to win this race, but his opportunities are running out. I’m hoping that Tony Kanaan will not retire as a member of the Lloyd Ruby club. I’m hoping that he will eventually win one of these things.
The heat and four hours sleep is starting to catch up with me, and I’ve got a ways to go to get to our hotel, so I will wrap this up for now. Chances are, this will more than likely be my last post of the day. I’m going to go back and watch some of the replay on Channel 6, but I’ll probably fall asleep rather quickly. It will be tomorrow before I watch the DVR to see what i saw. I may or may not have something here tomorrow, but I will have a recap and final thoughts either Monday or Tuesday. Then I’ll take a sabbatical for a week or more as I go on my honeymoon. But count on one more post regarding the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. Thanks for checking in all day. it was a heck of a race.