It was a race to remember, with Indianapolis 500 darling Dario Franchitti winning his third Borg-Warner Trophy and embracing both his wife, actress Ashley Judd, and his friend Dan Wheldon’s widow, Susie, with warmth to match the day’s second-hottest temperatures on record, 91 degrees.
It was a fittingly dramatic and emotional denouement to a saga that has alternately assailed and propped up IndyCar this past year. Organizers and fans alike wondered how this “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” would play out in the wake of 2011 winner Wheldon’s November death in IndyCar's 2012 finale in Las Vegas. The treasured champ’s spirit was alive on this day—yea, all week long—with plentiful banners and white cardboard sunglasses serving to remind.
>> See photos of today's race and events before and after it.
This is what it came down to: a record 35 lead changes and perennial also-ran Tony Kanaan’s relinquishing of the lead on lap 195, just after the race’s final re-start. Too bad for the one branded “TK” by his legions of fans, including one in the Turn 3 infield who told me, “He f***ing deserves it, he’s been here so many times.”
So it was not to be, at least not for TK. In the news business, when “TK” is inserted in a story draft, it means “to come”—it stands for what’s yet to be gleaned and reported. Here is a driver whose initials could not be more apropos. Kanaan must wait until the 97th running of this race in 2013 for another chance to claim the sport’s top honor.
"Danny, wherever he is right now, is very happy," Kanaan said later. "His three best friends in the top three."
Meanwhile, Franchitti, one well accustomed to winning here (in 2007 and 2010), did what he usually does: He closed. Hugged his lovely wife. Guzzled that traditional milk.
One hopes that somewhere his friend Dan Wheldon smiled.
Photos courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Borg-Warner Trophy photo by Kim Hannel