INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Andretti couldn't believe his eyes. With only three laps left in the 90th Indianapolis 500, his 19-year-old son, Marco, was leading the race in his first try - with Michael right behind him.
"It was a fairly tale," said Michael, who came out of retirement to race with Marco at least once at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It was the dream we talked about."
But it's still a dream because of high drama provided by Sam Hornish Jr., a tenacious Ohioan who was on his own mission to win his first 500 after failed attempts in six previous years.
Hornish, a two-time Indy Racing League champion, first ran down Michael and then shot past Marco near the start-finish line to win the second-closest 500 in history before more than 300,000 sun-baked fans.
"It's tough to put it all into words," said Hornish, 26, who choked back tears in Victory Lane. "I can't believe this."
Hornish swept inside Marco about 300 yards from the finish to beat him by a half-car length, or 0.064 of a second, with Michael Andretti finishing third. The only closer finish was in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. edged Scott Goodyear by 0.043 of a second.
It also was the first time in Indy 500 history that the winner took the lead on the final lap.
Marco still burned with the Andretti competitiveness after climbing out of his car. Despite one of the best rookie showings ever, Marco was nearly sullen.
"I'm happy with myself, but you've got to take advantage of every shot," he said, noting that his 43-year-old father never won the Indy 500 despite a stellar career. "I thought that I had won it."
But Michael, who gave Marco a hug afterward, said it "was a storybook finish."
"What are the odds of a father and son coming down like that" to the finish, he said.
And Mario Andretti, who won the Indy 500 in 1969, said of grandson Marco: "I'm proud of him. He did a phenomenal job."
Last year's rookie sensation, Danica Patrick, finished eighth. She was consistently in the top 10 during the 200-lap race but never seriously challenged for the lead.
"I didn't make any mistakes," said Patrick, 24, who last year nearly became the first woman to win the race before Dan Wheldon took over in the final laps. "We haven't been the fastest car all month and that was the case today."
Hornish, known for his trademark sideburns, also is known as a master at winning tight finishes. In March 2002, for instance, Hornish passed Jaques Lazier on the final turn to win an IRL race at the California Speedway.
His victory was a record 14th Indy 500 win for team owner Roger Penske. "What a great finish," said Penske. "[Hornish] is a fantastic oval [track] racer."
But it appeared Hornish would be snake-bitten again after a miscue in the pits with 50 laps left.
Hornish started to peel out of the pits before a crew member could remove his fuel hose. The hose was torn off, and Hornish abruptly stopped and then started again. That brought him a "drive-through" penalty.
No matter. Hornish doggedly climbed back through the field, putting himself in position to challenge the Andrettis after a late caution flag forced a shoot-out finish with five laps remaining.
Hornish first tried to pass Marco on Lap 199. Marco blocked him, and Hornish fell several car-lengths back before mounting his charge again on the final lap.
As he came off of Turn 4 for the final time, Hornish said he never doubted he would get to Marco and hoped it wouldn't cause a collision.
"I had a giant head of steam on him," Hornish said. "I was either going to pancake the right side of the car or I was going to win the race, one of the two."
For much of the race, it appeared Wheldon was in control. The Englishman had lapped two-thirds of the field and, at Lap 65, held a lead of nearly 20 seconds.
That lead evaporated with later caution periods, and with 16 laps left, "we got a [tire] puncture and had to pit off-sequence," which shuffled him back a few positions, Wheldon said. "It's just tough."
Marco's second-place finish was the best-ever for an Andretti in their rookie year. Michael finished fifth in his first 500 in 1984, and Mario finished third in 1965.
For Michael, it was another bittersweet day at the Brickyard.
Despite nearly winning the race and sharing Marco's strong run, Michael again came away without the trophy in his 15th try.
"I literally put my hand in the air thinking he [Marco] won the race," Michael said. "I couldn't believe it."
Jim Peltz writes for the Los Angeles Times.
1. (1) Sam Hornish Jr.
2. (9) Marco Andretti*
3. (13) Michael Andretti
4. (3) Dan Wheldon
5. (5) Tony Kanaan
6. (4) Scott Dixon
7. (17) Dario Franchitti
8. (10) Danica Patrick
9. (8) Scott Sharp
10. (6) Vitor Meira
24. (27) Al Unser Jr.
25. (2) Helio Castroneves
* - rookie
Note: Starting positions in parentheses