- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tony Kanaan skidded out of control after a run-in with his teammate. Danica Patrick was clipped by another car just trying to get off pit road. With all those yellow flags, it was hard to get up to speed at the Indianapolis 500.

So when did Scott Dixon take the lead for the final time on his way to victory lane?

In the pits. During the last caution period, no less.

Speeding back to the track after the final round of stops, Dixon came out ahead of Vitor Meira — thanks a lot, crew — and pulled away over the final 29 laps to capture his first Indianapolis 500 victory yesterday, holding off the Brazilian and hard-luck Marco Andretti.

The 27-year-old New Zealander started from the pole and stayed ahead of all the trouble, leading more laps than everyone else combined on a day when yellow was the predominant color, coming out eight times to slow up more than a third of the race.

“I didn’t know what it felt like, but it feels pretty bloody amazing,” Dixon said after taking a traditional sip of milk.

He stayed patient and focused even while making 69 of the 200 laps around the 2½-mile oval behind the pace car. Among those who weren’t around at the end: Kanaan, Patrick and 19-year-old Graham Rahal, the son of 1986 winner Bobby Rahal and last-place finisher in his first 500.

Dixon made the last pit stop trailing Meira, who had been out front for 12 laps after a daring move between Dixon and Ed Carpenter. But the red No. 9 car returned to the track with the lead.

“You just thought something was going to go wrong,” Dixon said. “There were so many yellows [that] it was really hard to get into a rhythm.”

Still savoring her landmark victory in Japan, Patrick failed to finish for the first time in four trips to Indy, though it wasn’t her fault. She was banged on pit road by Ryan Briscoe with 29 laps to go, breaking the left rear suspension on a car that had run in the top 10 most of the race but never challenged for the lead.

Patrick finished 22nd and was steaming afterward. After climbing out of her helpless car, she ripped off her gloves and stomped angrily toward Briscoe’s Team Penske pits. A track security official cut her off before she could get there.

“Probably best I didn’t get down there anyway,” Patrick said.

Even if she had been running at the end, it’s highly unlikely Patrick would have caught Dixon. He clearly had the fastest car on the track, just as he had been throughout the month of May.

“It’s nice to see the fastest car win,” said Meira, who finished 1.75 seconds behind, driving for the one-car, low-budget Panther Racing team.

The Brazilian has never won an IndyCar race but finished runner-up in the biggest race of all for the second time in four years. Few remember that he was second to Dan Wheldon in 2005, the same year Patrick finished fourth — and got all the headlines — as an Indy rookie.

Andretti appeared to knock Kanaan, his Andretti Green Racing teammate, out of the race with an aggressive move just past the midway point, but all he got was another close call for a family that is now 1-for-57 at the Brickyard. The 21-year-old settled for third, while cousin John Andretti was 16th.

The Andretti Curse at Indy is alive and well. They can drive, for sure. They just can’t win.

Dixon led 115 of the 200 laps, and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon was out front for 30 more, backing up the speed they had shown in practice and qualifications.

“I was worried going into the race just because we had such a smooth month,” Dixon said. “It was one of those things where you’re sort of waiting for something to go wrong.”

Maybe he was thinking back to a year ago. A sudden storm ended the race under yellow, and all Dixon could do was coast across the line behind winner Dario Franchitti.

No such worries this time.

“You’re clear now,” Dixon’s spotter screamed over the radio as he cleared the last group of lapped cars with two turns to go. “Bring it home! Bring it home!”

BRICKYARD BUZZ

ROOKIES (down)

Eleven started the race, including nine from the defunct Champ Car series. Only six finished.

CRASHES (down)

There were seven of them, resulting in eight cautions, but no drivers were injured seriously.

YOUNGEST, OLDEST (down)

Graham Rahal, 19, was the first driver out. Marty Roth, 49, was the second.

RETURN OF GOMER (up)

Jim Nabors, 77, was back singing “Back Home in Indiana” before the race after missing last year’s with heart trouble.

QUOTABLE

“Probably best I didn’t get down there anyway.”

Danica Patrick, who stomped angrily toward Ryan Briscoe’s Team Penske pits after her crash before a track security official cut her off

BY THE NUMBERS

19 Pole-sitters who have won the Indianapolis 500 after Scott Dixon’s victory yesterday. Rick Mears won a record three races from the top spot and four overall.

1 New Zealander who has won the Indianapolis 500 after Dixon did so yesterday.