INDIANAPOLIS -- Buddy Rice kept one eye on the fuel gauge, one on the darkening sky and his foot on the pedal and won a rain-soaked Indianapolis 500 Sunday.
With storm clouds closing fast, the 28-year-old Rice grabbed the lead for good in a final flurry of pit stops and took his first career victory under a yellow caution flag as the rain that first delayed the race and then interrupted it for almost two hours finally ended it 50 miles short of the scheduled finish.
''This is unbelievable,'' said Rice, who got his ride with Rahal Letterman Racing this season only because 1999 Indy winner Kenny Brack was out with injuries.
Michael Andretti, scion of Indy's most famous hard-luck family, suffered the same also-ran fate in his second year as a team owner as he had in 14 years behind the wheel: ever so close, but not first. Three of his drivers -- Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta -- finished second, third and fourth.
Rice was the surprise pole winner earlier this month and started Sunday's race like a rocket, driving off to a lead of more than three seconds -- nearly a straightaway on the 2ð-mile oval -- before the first caution flag came out on lap 11 when A.J. Foyt IV hit the wall.
It wasn't going to be that easy, though.
As fast as Rice's Honda-powered G Force was, he had to overcome a stall in the pits, win a gamble on fuel and then hold off the Andretti trio.
''It's indescribable,'' said television talk-show host David Letterman, who co-owns the team with 1986 Indy winner Bobby Rahal. ''I don't think the rain made any difference. We could have gone the full 200 laps. My God! What a job Buddy did. It's a thrill to be a part of this.''
It looked like everyone would have to come back Monday after wet weather first delayed the start of the race by two hours, then halted the action for another hour and 47 minutes after the 29th lap.
The threatening thunderstorms held off, somehow, until eight laps after Rice took the lead for the final time on lap 172.
Bruno Junqueira, the only driver from the rival Champ Car series, was never in contention until later in the race. But his Newman/Haas Racing team took a chance late in the race, making an early fuel stop that put Junqueira out front when the leaders pitted on lap 135.
''We tried to outsmart them on the fuel and we came close,'' said Junqueira's team manager, Jim McGee. ''But we still outsmarted a lot of them to finish fifth.''
Racing with a light fuel load, and hoping for rain to give him a victory, Junqueira built a huge lead before finally having to pit on lap 151.
That gave the lead to Kanaan, but Rice charged past him on the next lap to grab the top spot. Rice began pulling away, also watching the sky and knowing if the track stayed dry he would have to pit once more.
The rain held off and Rice came in for fuel on lap 166. Herta and Adrian Fernandez then took turns in the lead before they too had to pit, finally giving the top spot back to Rice, who took control until the rain began for the final time on lap 174.
Six laps later, it was over.