INDIANAPOLIS --- One lap to go, running on empty and someone bearing down on his tail.
After having the dominant car and the perfect game plan, Dario Franchitti still needed more Sunday -- one break to win his second Indianapolis 500.
He got it in the form of a spectacular, airborne crash that brought out a yellow flag and allowed him to cross the line with a scant 1.6 gallons of fuel left.
That 1.6 gallons left him holding a quart of milk, a winner at the Brickyard for the second time in four years.
"Still running," the winner told his crew over the radio as he crossed the finish line, while wreckers were moving out to scoop up debris from an accident that sent Mike Conway into the wall and to the hospital with a broken left leg.
The victory made Franchitti's boss, Chip Ganassi, the first owner to win Indy and NASCAR's Daytona 500 in the same year (with driver Jamie McMurray)
"All he wants to do is win," Franchitti said.
This win validated the Scottish driver's return to the IndyCar circuit two years after celebrating his 2007 Indy victory by making an unsuccessful move with Ganassi to NASCAR.
It also made Franchitti and crew look like the master tacticians they were on this day -- working the gas pedal perfectly to stretch their final fill-up for the last 37 laps and edge out 2005 champion Dan Wheldon of England.
"You have to be prepared for all eventualities there," Ganassi said. "We had to play that game being the leader to keep those guys behind us, but also stay in front of them to make it to the finish."
Franchitti was holding off Wheldon when Ryan Hunter-Reay ran out of gas and slowed suddenly with Conway coming up alongside him. Conway went airborne, flipped upside down and flew into the wall, nearly landing on top of Hunter-Reay. That brought out the caution flag for the final lap.
"That car should have come down on my head," Hunter-Reay said. "I don't know how it didn't."
And so, Franchitti's second victory turned out to be the story instead of Helio Castroneves' fourth. Spiderman's quest to tie A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears for most wins ever at the Brickyard essentially ended with an uncharacteristic mistake -- stalling out while leaving the pits on the 146th lap.
It left Castroneves in need of a yellow-flag miracle at the end that never came, and he finished ninth after one last pit stop on the 192nd lap.
"Unfortunately, silly mistakes put us in the back," Castroneves said. "I'm very disappointed. I'm more disappointed with the mistake."
Danica Patrick made no such mistakes. After being booed during qualifying for complaining about a balky car, she picked and poked her way from 23rd to sixth.
Patrick never found her comfort zone in the 88-degree weather -- at one point saying she wished she could make up as much time on the track as in the pits -- but she was patient and disciplined and now has five top-10 finishes in six years.
Marco Andretti was third, followed by England's Alex Lloyd and Scott Dixon.
"I'm very happy with the result, and the reasons we got it were that our pit stops rocked and we had a perfect strategy," Patrick said.
Not so for Tony Kanaan, who finished 11th after starting last in the 33-car field and moving as high as second, less than half a second behind. His bid to become the first driver in 94 years of Indys to go from worst to first ended when he had to go to the pits for a splash of fuel with four laps to go.
"I hope I made it exciting out there," Kanaan said.
Franchitti said he didn't forget about Kanaan, even after the Brazilian stopped for the quick fill-up.
"I was concerned about running out of fuel. I was concerned about Tony, that he pitted," Franchitti said. "The guys were, like, 'Just get to the finish. Just see if you'll get to the finish."
The crew started pressing Franchitti to conserve fuel with about 15 laps left. He did as he was told, and after leading 154 of the first 199 laps at speeds of up to 224.287 mph, he slowed steadily at the end -- to 210 mph, then 209 and 206.
Wheldon, whose crew was also telling him to slow, started bearing down, positioning himself to make the last lap of the Indy 500 the first lap he had led all year on the circuit.
Could he have caught Franchitti?
"I don't think he could have picked us off," Ganassi said.
He never had to find out. That's when the cars behind them went flying.
"Maybe if I was young, I would have totally ignored them, tried to run Dario down when I saw him slowing down," Wheldon said. "Just one of those things."