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Takuma Sato, of Japan, and Dario Franchitti, of Scotland, battle for the lead on the final lap of IndyCar's Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 27, 2012. Sato crashed on the lap and Franchitti went on to win the race. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Auto racing: Franchitti wins his third Indianapolis 500

Scottish driver wins his third Indy 500, pays tribute to Wheldon.

First Published May 27 2012 12:02 pm • Last Updated Aug 28 2012 11:36 pm

Indianapolis • Dan Wheldon couldn’t win his third Indianapolis 500. Dario Franchitti did it for him.

And if it wasn’t going to be Franchitti, then it would be Scott Dixon. Maybe even Tony Kanaan.

At a glance

Past Indianapolis 500 winners

2012 » Dario Franchitti

2011 » Dan Wheldon

2010 » Dario Franchitti

2009 » Helio Castroneves

2008 » Scott Dixon

2007 » Dario Franchitti

2006 » Sam Hornish Jr.

2005 » Dan Wheldon

2004 » Buddy Rice

2003 » Gil de Ferran

2002 » Helio Castroneves

2001 » Helio Castroneves

2000 » Juan Montoya

1999 » Kenny Brack

1998 » Eddie Cheever

1997 » Arie Luyendyk Sr.

1996 » Buddy Lazier

1995 » Jacques Villeneuve

1994 » Al Unser Jr.

1993 » Emerson Fittipaldi

1992 » Al Unser Jr.

1991 » Rick Mears

1990 » Arie Luyendyk Sr.

1989 » Emerson Fittipaldi

1988 » Rick Mears

1987 » Al Unser Sr.

1986 » Bobby Rahal

1985 » Danny Sullivan

1984 » Rick Mears

1983 » Tom Sneva

1982 » Gordon Johncock

1981 » Bobby Unser

1980 » Johnny Rutherford

1979 » Rick Mears

1978 » Al Unser Sr.

1977 » A.J. Foyt

1976 » Johnny Rutherford

1975 » Bobby Unser

1974 » Johnny Rutherford

1973 » Gordon Johncock

1972 » Mark Donohue

1971 » Al Unser Sr.

1970 » Al Unser Sr.

1969 » Mario Andretti

1968 » Bobby Unser

1967 » A.J. Foyt

1966 » Graham Hill

1965 » Jimmy Clark

1964 » A.J. Foyt

1963 » Parnelli Jones

1962 » Rodger Ward

1961 » A.J. Foyt

1960 » Jim Rathmann

1959 » Rodger Ward

1958 » Jimmy Bryan

1957 » Sam Hanks

1956 » Pat Flaherty

1955 » Bob Sweikert

1954 » Bill Vukovich Sr.

1953 » Bill Vukovich Sr.

1952 » Troy Ruttman

1951 » Lee Wallard

1950 » Johnnie Parsons

1949 » Bill Holland

1948 » Mauri Rose

1947 » Mauri Rose

1946 » George Robson

1942-45 » No races, World War II

1941 » Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose

1940 » Wilbur Shaw

1939 » Wilbur Shaw

1938 » Floyd Roberts

1937 » Wilbur Shaw

1936 » Louis Meyer

1935 » Kelly Petillo

1934 » Bill Cummings

1933 » Louis Meyer

1932 » Fred Frame

1931 » Louis Schneider

1930 » Billy Arnold

1929 » Ray Keech

1928 » Louis Meyer

1927 » George Souders

1926 » Frank Lockhart

1925 » Pete DePaolo

1924 » L.L.Corum and Joe Boyer

1923 » Tommy Milton

1922 » Jimmy Murphy

1921 » Tommy Milton

1920 » Gaston Chevrolet

1919 » Howard Wilcox

1917-18 » No races, World War I

1916 » Dario Resta

1915 » Ralph DePalma

1914 » Rene Thomas

1913 » Jules Goux

1912 » Joe Dawson

1911 » Ray Harroun

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No matter what, one of Wheldon’s best buddies was going to Victory Lane.

In the end, they celebrated a 1-2-3 sweep that honored D-Dub, their missing friend.

Franchitti stamped his name in the record books by winning his third Indy 500 on Sunday, a day that started and ended as a tribute to Wheldon, who won the race a year ago but was killed in an October crash in the IndyCar season finale. As his three friends lined up with six laps remaining for the final restart — Kanaan out front, Chip Ganassi teammates Franchitti and Dixon second and third — they couldn’t help but wonder if Wheldon was at play.

"Kind of like old times, the three of us back and forwards," Franchitti said. "I thought, ‘Dan is laughing at us right now going at it.’"

It was an absolutely fitting finish, even if the elation for Franchitti’s win was tempered by the heartbreak for two other deserving drivers. Dixon, a one-time Indy 500 winner, temporarily relocated his family to St. Petersburg, Fla., to support Wheldon’s wife and two sons, and Kanaan, 0 for 11 now at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, had openly wept following the death of his former teammate.

"I think a lot of us that were close to Dan, you know, you wanted it that little bit more," Dixon said. "I guess maybe in the back of your mind, you figured he would probably help you out today, too. I think in that situation, seeing how it lined up with the top three, three of Dan’s friends, it was a tough one."

Franchitti won a wheel-to-wheel, last-lap battle, sailing away to the checkered flag when Takuma Sato spun out trying to make one last pass on the inside and slammed into the wall.

The race had shaped into what was expected to be a duel to the finish between Franchitti and Dixon. But when the Scot made his final pass of Dixon with two laps to go, he pulled Sato with him and it sapped Dixon’s momentum.

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So the last-lap pass attempt was Sato’s for the taking, and he couldn’t pull it off as he hugged the inside white line through Turn 1. His wheels appeared to touch Franchitti’s, he spun hard into the wall, and Franchitti sailed past for the win — this one, just like the first two, under caution.

Dixon crossed the finish line in second, and Kanaan was third.

"Everybody up there was a friend of Dan’s, and that about sums it up. Everybody loved him," Franchitti said as bagpipes played over the public address system.

"What a race! What a race!" Franchitti said. "I think D-Dub would be proud of that one."

Dixon met his teammate in Victory Lane, and Franchitti was reminded of the delicate balance in celebrating a team win vs. beating a teammate.

"I want to beat Scott. I know he wants to beat me. I don’t think I’ve met maybe a more competitive individual, except maybe Dan in the early years," Franchitti said. "He’s my buddy. Out on the track, he’s competition, but a teammate, and then afterward he’s my friend. I see the disappointment in his face. I see the disappointment in T.K.’s face.

"I think both those guys will get more championships and Indy wins. They’re just too good not to. When you beat guys like that, I take that as a big accomplishment because, God, they’re not easy to beat."

Kanaan, who used a bold move on a late restart to dart from fifth to first, couldn’t hold off Franchitti and Dixon on the last restart. He was OK with the final result.

"I don’t think it could have been a better result for Dan," Kanaan said. "Wherever he is right now, he’s definitely making fun of Sato, I can tell you that, and he’s giving Dario a tap on the back for sure, and he was going to call me a wanker that I didn’t win this thing.

"I’m glad this is over. I’m glad that now I hope we can all move on and just remember Dan the way Dan was — a happy guy, a wonderful friend."

Wheldon’s wife, Susie, went to Victory Lane to congratulate Franchitti, who hid his tears of joy behind a pair of white sunglasses worn in tribute because they were Wheldon’s preference. She then sat next to Franchitti’s wife, actress Ashley Judd, in the backseat of the convertible — the same seat she had a year ago for Wheldon’s win — for the victory lap around the 2.5-mile oval.

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