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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Franchitti captures memorable Indy 500

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Dario Franchitti qualified poorly and his day looked to be spiraling downward when he was punted from behind in the pits early in the race. The defending Izod Indy Car Series champion rallied and methodically picked off the field, outlasting a charging Takuma Sato to win his third Indianapolis 500 before a sun drenched, appreciative crowd.

“It really is gratifying to succeed here today after falling behind so quickly,” Franchitti said.

While Franchitti’s overall performance was impressive, it was somewhat dwarfed by Japan’s Sato, who raced the winner cleanly before spinning out and hitting the unforgiving wall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the two banged wheels on the final lap.

“I had a good aerodynamic tow on Dario, so I raced for the win,” said the former Formula One driver. “When he didn’t give me room, I got down below the white line and it was over when we touched.”

Scott Dixon appeared to have victory in sight with his Target Team Ganassi Chevrolet out in front with just two laps to go, but was passed by his teammate Franchitti, who would go on to win his third 500 crown on Sunday.

Perennial fan favorite Tony Kanaan, who ran well all day, brought it home in third place just ahead of Oriol Servia. Pole sitter Ryan Briscoe who ran strong early, rounded out the top five finishers.

NOTES: Franchitti became the 10th driver to win the 500 three times and collected $2.47 million for his efforts. Dixon walked away with a second place check good for just over $1.1 million on a day that saw a mammoth total purse of more than $13 million distributed to the contestants.

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The win for Franchitti was the fifth overall at Indianapolis for team owner Chip Ganassi, who hopped a private jet after the race to travel to Charlotte, N.C., to watch his NASCAR teams compete in a 600-mile event later that evening.

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While there were eight incidents that produced 39 laps of caution flag racing, there was also some spirited competition throughout the day. The estimated crowd of 220,000 was treated to a record 34 lead changes amongst 10 drivers, and there were 16 cars on the lead lap at the finish.

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Marco Andretti led the most laps on the day, but crashed late in the race in an incident with Oriol Servia.

Series points leader Will Power saw his day end early when he collided with Mike Conway, who was nursing a car that had a bent front wing. As with Andretti, both drivers were uninjured.

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Former Formula One standout Rubens Barrichello ran solid all day and in the process captured the Chase Bank Rookie of the Year Award with an 11th place finish. Barrichello, who won the 2002 United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis, stated afterwards that the last 20 laps were as harrowing as any he has ever driven in his illustrious career. While it is indeed hard to imagine a driver that experienced and talented being classified as a rookie, it was his first oval race.

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Honda engines produced better mileage than their counterparts at Chevrolet, but they also looked stout in the speed department. This development came after qualifying nearly 2.5 miles an hour slower than Chevrolet on Pole Day. The late Dan Wheldon, who helped in the development of both the Honda motor and the new chassis that is being utilized in the series this year, received various tributes throughout the day. The 2011 Indy 500 winner’s car was driven around the track by owner Bryan Herta before the race and Wheldon’s wife rode in the pace car after the race with Franchitti and his wife, actress Ashley Judd.

Danny Bridges can be reached at Bridgeshd@aol.com.

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