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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Dario Franchitti kisses the start/finish line after winning his third Indianapolis 500.

Indy 500 had many winners

– I’ll go with Mike Hull of Target Chip Ganassi on this one, as Takuma Sato takes the puncher’s chance in the last of a day that was stuffed with them.

Your 96th Indianapolis 500?

Solid knockout for the sunny optimists over the doom-criers.

“I think the race today was fantastic,” Hull said after Ganassi’s guy, Dario Franchitti, shut down Sato’s desperate attempt on the last lap. “At 400 miles, we saw a trophy dash.”

And more than one winner crowded the stage, at the end.

Five off the top of my head:

1. Dario, cubed

If there’s a more gracious man in motorsports, I’ll toast him with brake fluid. Franchitti is “absolutely unselfish,” according to Hull, and Franchitti knows where he comes from; his heroes, as a proper lead-footed Scot, are Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark. And Sunday, he was honestly humbled by the elite group he joined by winning three times at Indy.

“To be in the company of guys like that means so much,” he said.

2. Sato

If this was Dario’s and Ganassi’s triumph, it was the 35-year-old from Tokyo who defined it. An enormous star in Japan, his charge from 19th on the starting grid to within inches, perhaps, of a historic victory not only introduced him to America but was one of the major storylines of the day.

In the end, he led 31 laps, becoming only the second Japanese driver ever to lead an Indy 500 (Tora Takagi in 2003 was the first). And his bold/rash move in Turn 1 on the final lap gave the 96th running its “SportsCenter” moment at a time when IndyCar could certainly use one.

3. History

In a place that makes a fetish of it, it lay over this day like a holographic image.

Sato goes under Franchitti for the lead, and here is Emerson Fittipaldi going under Al Unser Jr. in 1989, with similar results. Franchitti and Scott Dixon swap the lead 10 times in the last 50 laps, and suddenly it’s 1960 again, when Rodger Ward and Jim Rathmann took turns leading 14 times in the last 100 laps, or 1986, when Bobby Rahal, Rick Mears and Kevin Cogan handed the lead back and forth seven times in the last 34 laps.

4. The things of man, generally

They said nature was coming this day, and it was … um, miffed.

Near-record heat plus new machinery untested over 500 miles on the most brutal oval in racing was supposed to add up to Cletus ’N Them’s Automotive Graveyard And Parts Emporium. Instead, there wasn’t a single engine failure, and the ability of drivers to slingshot past each other in the downforce-heavy Dallara DW12 led to a record 34 lead changes, including 13 in the last 50 laps.

5. Honda, specifically

Chevrolet dominated much of May the way it had dominated the rest of 2012, hogging the first three rows and 10 of the top 13 spots on the starting grid. But in race trim, and with Honda’s clear advantage in fuel mileage, the race itself was a more than fair fight.

The top two finishers, Franchitti and Dixon, had Honda engines. The next four finishers rode with Chevy. All told, the Top 10 was an even split: Five Hondas, five Chevys.

As for the two Lotuses … well, at least they didn’t surprise. Slower than erosion all month, Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro couldn’t pedal any faster on race day (literally pedal them, some suspected), and IndyCar did the right thing by stopping them 14 laps in.

Only thing that didn’t work, this day.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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