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Franchitti wins rain-shortened Indianapolis 500

May 28, 2007 - 3:00 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Just a few days ago, Scotland's Dario Franchitti referred to himself and New Zealand's Scott Dixon as "The Invisible Men" at the 91st Indianapolis 500.

On Sunday, the two "Invisible Men" could be seen very easily, as Franchitti won his first career Indy 500 - followed by Dixon - in a race that ended in a downpour on lap 166, just 34 laps from the scheduled distance.

"That didn't escape me," Franchitti said of his "Invisible Man" line from Thursday. "When we came down to what was going to be the last restart, I looked back and saw Dixon there. I thought, 'This should make people sit up and take notice.'"

From now on, Franchitti will be noticed as an Indy 500 winner. His face will be sculpted onto the BorgWarner Trophy as he becomes part of auto racing history.

"It all made sense when I turned around and looked at that trophy," Franchitti said. "I saw some of the names on that trophy today. Then, I was in awe. I really was, to see the great names that are on there, see some of the great guys that should be on there like Michael Andretti. It was a humbling experience."

Franchitti's wife, actress Ashley Judd, celebrated the victory as if she had won another Academy Award. And this finish was like a Hollywood movie where no one knew the outcome, only to be stunned at the very end.

"I can hardly believe it," Franchitti said. "Who could have thought it? Now, I know what it means to win this race."

Franchitti climbed out of his car with a look of disbelief.

"I can hardly believe it," he said. "Who could have thought it? Now, I know what it means to win this race. The Indy 500 is the pinnacle of my career. It's massive - it's awesome."

It was a premature end to a spectacular Indy 500 that was run at a furious pace only to be interrupted twice by rain, including a three-hour red-flag session which ended at 6:10 p.m. Eastern Time.

But the race was slowed before the rain by an incredible crash involving Marco Andretti.

Franchitti was the leader when the race restarted on lap 162 before the worst crash of the race took place on the backstretch involving the 20-year-old Andretti.

As the field charged through the backstretch, Andretti's car touched wheels with Dan Wheldon, sending Andretti airborne before landing hard upside-down.

Andretti was able to climb from the wreckage with a little help from the safety crew.

"I'm going to be bruised, but to come out of that bruised, I'm going to be happy," Andretti said. "I'm very lucky for sure. I was upside-down for a long time. I'm so lucky. My mirror was broke, so I had no idea who was outside me, whoever it was (Wheldon). I apologize for that.

"I'm so happy for Dario. I'm so thankful Andretti Green came out on top."

As the wreckage from the crash was being cleared, the skies opened, drenching the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ending the race.

Instead of celebrating in Victory Lane, Franchitti drove his car into "The Green Room" at the base of the Pagoda the control center of the massive Speedway.

Franchitti became the first Scotsman to win the Indianapolis 500 since Jim Clark in 1965.

"That was one of the reasons I was so (ticked) I didn't win in 2005," Franchitti said. "I was so upset because it was 40 years since Jimmy Clark had won it. Jackie Stewart came over, watched the race. It was looking good for a while but didn't turn out."

Clark was such a hero to Franchitti, he named one of the bedrooms in his restored house in Nashville, Tennessee, 'The Jim Clark Room.'

"I think he's a hero for any Scottish driver and really one of the best drivers in the world ever," Franchitti said. "It's the only time I ever went and picked out tile. I had to get the tile to match the color of his helmet."

Two of the first to greet Franchitti in Victory Lane were Andretti Green Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick, both playing major roles in this Indy drama.

Franchitti pitted for the final time on lap 143. He had been put out of pit sequence when he cut a tire after a crash earlier before the race was stopped on lap 113.

After the lengthy red flag, the field started from pit lane, and Franchitti pitted immediately to change the cut tire.

The team's engineer, John Anderson, decided to fill Franchitti's car with fuel, which put him out of pit sequence with the rest of the field.

"We cut a tire on some debris and had to make a pit stop," Franchitti said. "I was trying to save fuel.

"The one comment that sticks in my mind was John Anderson saying on the radio, 'The rain is eight blocks away.' I'm like, 'Come on!' It was going to come down to a dogfight. I was hoping for the rain."

Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who started on the pole, finished third, followed by Team Penske teammate and defending race winner Sam Hornish Jr. Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top five.

Patrick, who was one of the contenders for the victory running as high as second place, finished eighth.

Rookie Milka Duno from Venezuela crashed in the first turn of the 61st lap.

There were 23 lead changes among nine drivers the greatest number of lap leaders for an Indy 500 that went less than the full distance.

Kanaan led eight times for 83 laps. Franchitti led three times for 34 laps.

Kanaan, one of the race favorites, crashed on the restart on lap 157 after the right rear tire went flat.

"If I could pick anybody besides me and Michael (Andretti), it would be Dario," Kanaan said, fighting off his disappointment. "We're so close. Dario is one of the biggest reasons why I signed with this team. It's a good day for him, and let's move on.

"One of my best friends won and if it couldn't be me, I'm glad it was him."

The damaged suspension virtually eliminated Kanaan from winning the race, which could end short of 500 miles when rain hits the Speedway.

Kanaan was preparing for the restart when Jaques Lazier slammed into the wall, making contact with Kanaan's car. Patrick nearly was involved in the crash but was able to avoid it.

The first 113 laps of the race featured some incredible racing. But the three-hour rain break gave the estimated crowd of 350,000 fans a chance to catch their collective breath before the restart shortly after 6 p.m.

That was before a series of crashes, and rain, gave the fans a winner that few had talked about entering the race.

"For most of the month, (Dixon) and I were the invisible men," Franchitti said.

He took the checkered flag in plain sight of the racing universe on Sunday at the world's biggest theater of human drama.

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