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A 1-2-3 tribute for Dan Wheldon

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dan Wheldon would have loved it, his three best buddies in a battle at the end Sunday to win the Indianapolis 500.

Wheldon had lots of friends, but possibly the three racers he was closest to in the world all had a chance to win in the final laps.

Dario Franchitti, Wheldon's former teammate who was like a Scottish big brother and mentor to the Englishman, avoided a crash at the end to win it for the third time under caution.

Scott Dixon finished second. Wheldon's widow, Susie, was on pit road watching. Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 for a second time a year ago, was killed in a multicar crash at Las Vegas last October.

Dixon and his wife, Emma, moved from Indianapolis to St. Petersburg, Fla., after Wheldon's death to be close to Susie and Wheldon's two young sons.

And Tony Kanaan, the old teammate Dan loved to tease and joke with more than anyone on the planet, finished third after leading with six laps to go.

"I don't think it could have ended in a better result for Dan," Kanaan said. "Wherever he is now, he's smiling. Of course, he still would be calling me a wanker because I didn't win this thing."

Sunday's race started with almost everyone in the grandstands wearing white-framed sunglasses that were Wheldon's trademark. It ended with three guys who loved Dan all believing they could win it.

With 16 laps to go, Kanaan showed everyone just how much he wanted it, going from fifth to first on one of those magical restarts that only he can do.

He risked everything to get to the front to try to win the racing prize that has eluded him. But this time, it would mean a little more.

"Obviously I wanted to win this race for myself as bad as I've been trying," Kanaan said. "But it would have been special to put my face beside Dan's on the [Borg-Warner] trophy."

It wasn't meant to be, but Kanaan has no regrets this time. He was truly happy that the race came down to Dan's little clan.

On the last restart with six laps left, Kanaan was first, Franchitti was second and Dixon was third.

"At the time, I didn't want to think about it," Kanaan said. "I wanted to keep my focus. But on the caution I was thinking, 'Well, Mr. Wheldon would be happy right now.' One of us was going to win it."

Nothing against Franchitti, but the majority of the crowd wanted to see Kanaan win it. Few drivers in Indy 500 history have come so close so many times without winning. Sunday was his sixth top-5 finish in 11 Indy starts.

When Kanaan took the lead with his roll-the-dice restart, it was like a NASCAR race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes to the front. Almost everyone was standing and cheering.

"I saw the crowd and could see them waving," Kanaan said. "I couldn't hear them, obviously, but I'm pretty sure they went bonkers. I can't thank them enough. They make me feel so wanted here.

"I know they want me to win, but I'm still more famous for not winning it. I'll keep trying. We saw today old guys can do well here, so I think I still have a shot."

Kanaan is 37, but Franchitti is 39. And Kanaan was looking at Rubens Barrichello when he said it. Barrichello, 40, grew up with Kanaan as go-kart racers in Brazil. Barrichello raced 19 years in Formula One, but this was his first Indy 500. He finished 11th.

I don't think it could have ended in a better result for Dan [Wheldon]. Wherever he is now, he's smiling.

-- Tony Kanaan

"Hey, I'm a rookie," Barrichello said to Kanaan. "You're the old guy here."

Kanaan just smiled. I've never seen him happier in defeat.

This day was about something more than just winning. Dan's pals put of a heck of a show at the end, even though Takuma Sato tried to break up the party with one lap top go.

Sato was having the race of his life and running second when he made a bold move to pass Franchitti on the inside of Turn 1. Sato was side by side with Franchitti in a 200-mph game of chicken.

Sato lost control and Franchitti didn't. Sato's car spun into the wall with Dixon and Kanaan watching behind them.

"It's easy to make a call now, but what I saw there was a guy getting antsy," Kanaan said. "You do not play with Dario like that. Sato should have known better. It was a young driver mistake that will haunt him a little.

"When I saw the move, I thought, 'This doesn't look good.' Then I thought, 'This may be really good for me.'"

Dixon also thought Sato got impatient.

"He should have waited a little longer," Dixon said. "That last lap could have been fun."

Kanaan said Wheldon would have had something to say to Franchitti and Sato afterward.

"He would be making fun of Sato," Kanaan said. "And he would tap Dario on the back and tell him he was lucky."

Wheldon probably would have insisted Franchitti pay for all the beer Sunday night.

"Beer, no,'' Kanaan said. "The whole party."

No doubt all three of them will have a toast to Dan Sunday night and think about what an all-out effort they put on for their buddy.

"It felt good," Kanaan said. "Dan's best friends fought for the win. We all wanted it for him and it was an honor to be a part of it.

"But I'm glad this one is over. I hope we can all move on now and just remember Dan the way he was: a happy guy and a wonderful friend."