CLEVELAND (AP) -- Spinning his tires on the infield grass in Turn One, Dario Franchitti thought about the cars already ahead of him and figured his day couldn't get any worse.
"Then I came into the pit and stalled it," Franchitti said. "But it didn't matter because I was in last anyway."
But 99 laps later, Franchitti, dangerously close to running out of fuel at the finish, held off Memo Gidley to win Sunday's Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland by .305 seconds -- the closest race in the event's 20-year history.
Franchitti's win was his first in CART since October 1999, snapping a 29-race winless streak for the 28-year-old Scot, whose most notable feat the past two years had been getting engaged to actress Ashley Judd.
"How long had it been, 29 races?" Franchitti asked.
Franchitti started 14th but was dead last after he skidded off the course with three others on the first turn. But slowly passing cars, and saving fuel along the way, he took the lead for good on the 91st of 100 laps when Gidley pitted and won with just a splash of fuel left.
"I was kind of shocked when I crossed the finish line, nothing went wrong, and we won," said Franchitti, whose career had stalled since 1999. "Today, everything went right and we had some luck. In the final lap, I kept thinking, 'Save fuel.' We were close."
Bryan Herta was third -- 7.9 seconds behind Franchitti's Reynard-Honda -- and Gil de Ferran fourth. Series leader Kenny Brack finished sixth and has 84 points this season, 14 more than Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves. Franchitti is third with 65 after picking up 20 for winning.
Defending champion Roberto Moreno was eighth. He was among the top four drivers until lap 89, when he bumped a tire barrier while trying to avoid Herta, who began to spin when his left wheels caught grass in a chicane.
"I had nowhere to go," Moreno said.
Franchitti's victory was the seventh of his CART career and his first since Australia in '99. He finished second June 17 in Detroit, but ran sixth a week ago in Portland, Ore.
He was winless in 20 starts last season, ending the year 13th in the standings after losing the championship to Juan Montoya on a tiebreaker in 1999.
"Hopefully, we can build on this and can do what we did today from now on," Franchitti said.
He appeared to be headed for another disappointing afternoon when he was one of four drivers spinning their tires in the wet grass after the first turn of lap 1.
"I went to the outside to stay out of trouble and I got into grass," he said.
But the bumpy start ended up helping Franchitti. He quickly made a pit stop and stalled, but he also took on some additional fuel -- perhaps just enough to save him at the end.
"The dashboard was reading less than a gallon," said Franchitti, who last pitted on the 66th lap. "It was one of those situations where you've really got to watch on the last lap or I'm going to come out of the last chicane, get on the gas and it's going to run out of fuel."
Gidley was making just his second start this season after being hired by team owner Chip Ganassi before the race in Portland. Gidley led for 59 laps Sunday, but had to pit on lap 90 and didn't have enough speed on the final straight to catch Franchitti.
"I could see him coming like a rocket," Franchitti said.
Gidley had been driving his pickup truck to CART stops until recently, hoping to land a spot with a team, and he said there were moments when he had to pinch himself.
"I was pushing hard all the time and I really thought it was going to be my race," he said. "For a while, every corner, I thought, 'My God, I'm going to finish second.' And then I thought, 'Hey, I can get first.' It was overwhelming."
Gidley said Ganassi has already promised him a ride in Toronto in two weeks.
"Chip said, 'Well, it looks like we'll go to the next one,"' Gidley said.
Gidley's charge was slowed on the 95th lap, when he had to brake hard while trying to pass a slower Michael Andretti, Franchitti's teammate.
"I don't really blame anything on Michael," Gidley said. "I've been there with people saying, 'Get Gidley out of the way.' I came up on him pretty hard."
Following some morning showers, the bumpy, slippery runway track at Burke Lakefront Airport was dry and, following two days of spins in practice and qualifying, the race was very clean with 97 laps run under a green flag.
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