There were a couple of crashes early in the race, including one that took out defending winner Helio Castroneves and Vitor Meira, but the big one came on lap 144 when Wheldon, trying to overtake leader Franchitti, appeared to drive his right front tire into Franchitti's left rear.
Suddenly, Franchitti's car soared high in the air, backward and upside down. He came down on top of the car driven by Scott Dixon. Before it was over, cars driven by A.J. Foyt IV, former Michigan winner Tomas Scheckter, three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. and Ed Carpenter were also involved.
Franchitti, who is married to actress Ashley Judd, said he was traveling around 215 mph when the crash occurred. He has been racing for 24 years, but never experienced anything like that before.
"It's not a nice feeling," he told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "I think, normally, an accident happened so fast you have no time to think about it but that car was up in the air for a long time and I had time to think about a lot of things, especially how hard it was going to be when it hit the ground. I was pleasantly surprised when it came down and it wasn't that bad."
He said he couldn't believe his luck and he assured everyone around him it looked a lot worse than it actually was.
"The whole car is tailor made from head to foot for each driver," he said. "It's designed to help us survive stuff like that. So the structure — yeah, it really worked on Sunday."
Judd was watching him on television but left the room before the crash. She came back while Franchitti was climbing out of the car and watched the replay of the accident knowing he was fine.
"She was more interested in the drive from the back of the track to the front in six laps," he said.
Franchitti's team, AGR, was doing very well in the race and his teammates — Tony Kanaan, Michael Andretti and Danica Patrick — were trying to help him win because he is a strong contender for the IndyCar Series championship, so he was disappointed that he wasn't able to finish.
"Tony and Danica eventually finished one and two," he said, "a good team performance."