ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Two-time defending series champion Dario Franchitti won IndyCar's season opener on Sunday, showing he's once again the one to beat in open-wheel racing.
Franchitti grabbed the lead early on and was hardly challenged in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Scottish driver was nearly perfect for 100 laps on the scenic, 1.8-mile street course, beating pole-sitter Will Power to the finish line by more than seven seconds.
Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion who joined his new team Monday, held off Simona de Silvestro over the final few laps for third. De Silvestro enjoyed her best finish in 18 career starts.
Danica Patrick was 11th, a disappointing start to her seventh IndyCar season. She drove four races in NASCAR's second-tier series before resuming her full-time IndyCar gig.
There was chaos early, but order was restored late as three of IndyCar's top drivers - Franchitti, Power and Kanaan - ended up on the podium.
Nonetheless, the start was what everyone was talking about afterward. There were four full-course cautions in the first 13 laps.
A few hours after teammates Sebastien Bourdais and James Jakes crashed during a warmup session, five cars - all of them from the sport's top three teams - found trouble in the first turn.
Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe were involved, as were two-time series champion Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport teammates Mike Conway and Marco Andretti.
Andretti drove into Dixon from behind, sending Andretti for a wild ride. He flipped and landed upside down. He escaped without injury, walked toward his pit, paused to watch a huge replay board, then blamed three-time Indy 500 champion Castroneves for the melee.
``Helio just drove it in on all of us,'' Andretti said. ``He missed his braking point by a decent chunk. It's unfortunate.''
The race was stopped several more times on restarts, all of them coming under the sport's new rules. In previous years, the series used single-file restarts. But this season, IndyCar switched to double-file restarts similar to those in NASCAR.
Drivers thought those dicey situations would be attractive to fans and figured they also would cause attrition. They were right on both accounts. Fans cheered the first-turn frenzy and several cars sustained damage on restarts.
Andretti questioned the decision.
``That's what happens when you try to imitate NASCAR,'' he said. ``Our cars have too much power to start right nose-to-tail, you know. It creates disasters. It's good for the fans; it's not good for me today.''
Patrick ran into trouble before the midway point of the race. She drove into the rear of Justin Wilson on lap 44 and broke her nose wing. Her team fixed it, but she wasn't able to make up ground on the leaders.
Franchitti, meanwhile, was simply pulling away from his closest competitors.
Franchitti edged Power for the championship in last year's season finale and opened 2011 with another strong showing for Chip Ganassi Racing. He took the lead on the third lap, was dominant from there and seemingly could have slowed down over the final few laps to take in the sights on the waterfront drive.
It was Franchitti's first victory - and fifth top-five finish - in six starts at St. Petersburg.

Recent NASCAR Discussions

All-Star Betting News and Notes on Sat, May 2017 by Blade
Go Bowling 400 Betting News and Notes on Thu, May 2017 by Blade
Geico 500 Betting News and Notes on Sun, May 2017 by Blade
Food City 500 Betting News and Notes on Tue, Apr 2017 by Michael Cash

NASCAR Odds

Driver Odds
Odds to Win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup 2017 Championship
Jimmie Johnson #48 +500
Kyle Busch #18 +700
Joey Logano #22 +700
Kevin Harvick #4 +700
Martin Truex, Jr. #78 +750

Nascar Top Stories

Thumbnail NASCAR All-Star Race Picks The NASCAR All-Star Race will be held later tonight. Here are some drivers we think can come away with the win in this exhibition.
Thumbnail North Education Lottery 200 Odds The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drives under the lights on Friday night for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Here is a look at the odds to win the...
Thumbnail NASCAR All-Star Race Odds The NASCAR Monster Energy Series hosts its annual midseason exhibition race this weekend with the NASCAR All-Star Race. Here is a...
Thumbnail Go Bowling 400 Predictions The green flag for the Go Bowling 400 will be waved later tonight. Here is a look at the drivers we like to contend for the NASCAR victory...
Thumbnail Toyota Tundra 250 Picks The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series gets the busy racing weekend started with the Toyota Tundra 250 taking place...