Allan Brewer, IndyCar Correspondent
For the second year in a row, the Indianapolis 500 was decided by a last-lap crash, as Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti won one of the hottest and most hotly contested Memorial Day Classics in history on Sunday. The victory gained Franchitti entrance into an elite circle of drivers to drink the milk three times at Indianapolis on the Memorial Day weekend. Franchitti was preceded in the triple by Louis Meyer, Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Helio Castroneves.
"I just want to dedicate this to Dan Wheldon and little racing fan Michael Wanser," said Franchitti speaking of the late racer who lost his life in the 2011 IndyCar season finale and the popular pediatric cancer victim who often visited the Speedway.
What a great day to come back after being spun in the pit lane and being last at one point.
Franchitti's win did not come easily and included a near disastrous pit lane incident on lap 15, and a last-lap challenge as he had to fend off a slingshot move by Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Franchitti took the lead from his teammate Scott Dixon, but on the last lap, former F1 driver Sato came low and fast into Turn 1, looking to get under Franchitti. The Scot gave Sato room under him - but just enough to where Sato was going to have to be inch-perfect to get through. Sato was not up to the task though, as he lost control, bounced off Franchitti's car and into the outside wall, while Franchitti held tight to his car and rolled the final 2.5 miles to the win.
"I tried to go inside but got on the white line and lost it," said Sato. "I had nowhere to go."
Franchitti's victory was his third triumph under yellow at Indianapolis. The first came when showers stopped the race for a second time in 2007, and the second came due to a last-lap crash by Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2010.
"What a race, what a race," Franchitti repeated afterwards. "What a great day to come back after being spun in the pit lane and being last at one point. I think Dan (Wheldon) would be proud of this one," he continued. "To be on this Borg Warner trophy on either side of (2011 winner) Dan means more than anything."
Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon took second followed by Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology in third. Dreyer & Reinbold's Oriol Servia was fourth. Team Penske polewinner Ryan Briscoe was fifth.
Andretti Racing's James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing, Ganassi Racing's Charlie Kimball, Sam Schmidt's Townsend Bell and Castroneves rounded out the top ten.
"I saw him coming," said Franchitti. "He got loose underneath me, kind of like Emerson (Fittipaldi) and Little Al (Unser) at the end there." Fittipaldi won the 1989 Indianapolis 500 in a similar incident on Lap 199.
A race recap follows:
Caution on Lap 188 came when Marco Andretti spun and made contact with the Turn 1 wall.
Ed Carpenter spun on Lap 181 to set up a restart on Lap 184 that brought loud cheers around the oval as Kanaan rocketed into the lead.
With 100 miles remaining it was Franchitti in front followed by Dixon, Sato, Wilson and Hinchcliffe.
Rookie Josef Newgarden spun on Lap 164, putting a damper on a truly impressive first month at the Indy 500.
Sebastian Saavedra car came to a halt in the safety lane in Lap 146 with an electrical failure.
At the 100 Lap halfway mark the running order was Dixon, Franchitti, Hunter-Reay, Rahal and Sato.
Ana Beatriz made contact in Turn 2 on Lap 90, bringing out the yellow but was able to continue in the race after repairs.
A 2-car crash on Lap 80 took out Will Power and Foyt Racing's Mike Conway; immediately following a crew injury sustained by the Foyt team in the pits.
The first third of the race was owned by Marco and Hinchcliffe who fought for the lead early before settling into a sensible 1-2 order of good racing teammates.
An early spin by Bryan Clauson brought the day's first caution on Lap 14.
Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi of Lotus Racing were black-flagged in the race's opening minutes for failing to maintain minimum speed.
Ambient temperature at the 12 noon start in Speedway, Indiana was 91 degrees Fahrenheit, and the track surface at Indianapolis Motor Speedway registered 131 degrees Fahrenheit. While the 92 degree mark was not reached, it felt like the hottest 500 in race history.