|Date: 10/4/2010 8:38:04 PM|
Indy 500 Winner Dario Franchitti Wins Third Indycar Title
By Walter Elliott
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, by edging rival Will Power by five points in the Cafes do Brazil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 2, won his third Indy Racing League IZOD IndyCar Series championship in the last four years.
Franchitti, 37, of Nashville, and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon started the weekend on the 1.5-mile oval aggressively. The Italian Scotsman earned the PEAK Antifreeze pole Oct. 1 and, with Dixon in tow, led the 200-lap Saturday night race six times for a driver-high 128 laps. Those actions earned Franchitti three points.
While Franchitti, Dixon and team owner Ganassi figured at least a top 10 finish would be enough, Power - who entered the season finale 14 points ahead - and car owner Roger Penske reckoned on at least a top five finish or Power's career first IICS oval track victory to clinch the crown.
Power, who had won all five of his races on road courses this season, was running between fourth and ninth places until he was trying to lap Ryan Hunter-Reay and another backmarker on lap 135. The Australian, who was rebounding from a crash-abbreviated season last year, lost aerodynamic downforce and brushed his right side up against the third and fourth turn walls.
Power nursed his car to the pits, where Team Penske crew members replaced his right rear upper suspension wishbone in five minutes. He went back out for five laps and pitted again about a right side pulling problem.
Team Penske spent the next hour replacing the right front suspension - but Power knew he had lost his bid. IRL officials placed Power 25th among the 27 race starters and amassing 10 points.
He was disappointed but, considering he was watching last year's race in a back brace, philosophical.
"The championship is won over 17 races, not one," said Power. "It came down to making the fewest mistakes and Dario was hard to beat. There were a couple of backmarkers running different lines that took my air off. We're going to be more determined next year."
Franchitti, when told over the radio of Power's crash, backed off. The No. 10 Dallara-Honda driver, aside from missing a spinning Milka Duno by about two feet on lap 176, deferred to Dixon.
"It got a little too action-packed at the end," said Franchitti. "After our last pit stop, were were in the back of the pack. There was four-wide racing and wheel banging and Milka just missed me."
Dixon went on to a 2.7587 sec. victory margin over Danica Patrick. Patrick, who had been dividing her time this season between the IndyCar and NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series stock car tours, eked out Andretti Autosports teammate Tony Kanaan by .0111 sec.
Franchitti meanwhile cruised to eighth place among 23 finishers - enough for 24 more points to oust Power. The 23-time career IndyCar race winner had first won the Indy 500 and championship in 2007 with Andretti Autosport over 2003 champ Dixon before joining Ganassi's NASCAR Sprint and Nationwide teams the next year.
Franchitti's 2008 stock car sojourn ended with a fractured left ankle and the Ganassi-Felix Sabates No. 40 Dodge Intrepid team running out of sponsorship money by July 1. He made the best of Ganassi's 2009 offer to return to IndyCars by winning the Firestone Indy 300 here last year - and taking the IICS crown from defending titlist Dixon.
Franchitti, Ganassi and their crew received a $1 million drivers championship bonus and a new trophy from IRL and IZOD officials at the nearby W Hotel at South Beach Oct. 3.
The Italian Scotsman is the 28th Indy 500 winner to go on to earn that season's national IndyCar championship title. Another Italian Scotsman - Dario Resta - first won the 500 and AAA championship in 1916.
Floyd "Chip" Ganassi may have been the only other IndyCar person happier than Dario and country singer wife Ashley Judd Franchitti with the weekend's outcome. Ganassi, of Pittsburgh, Pa., has won his fourth straight IRL car owners championship - and that is just with IndyCars..
Ganassi, Sabates, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.'s widow Teresa and driver Jaime McMurray joined forces to win this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Daytona 500 Feb. 24 and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway July 25. The joint effort makes Ganassi the first car owner ton to win the Daytona and Indy 500s and the Brickyard 400 the same year.
Ganassi and Sabates, with drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, have also won this year's NASCAR Rolex Grand American Road Racing Daytona Prototype series Sept. 11.
The race, for the record, saw Power and Duno join Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz and Mario Moraes on the sidelines. Five caution periods slowed the pace for 41 laps. There were 19 lead changes among Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Briscoe, Alex Tagliani and Helio Castroneves.
Briton Alex Lloyd, who finished 12, was named IICS Rookie of the Year Oct. 3.
Frenchman JK Vernay meanwhile received his IRL Firestone Indy Lights Championship - and another for car owner Sam Schmidt - at the Oct. 3 awards banquet. Vernay, however, finished 15th - a lap down - to first-time FIL winner Brandon Wayne.
Wayne, who ends a two-year sabbatical from Purdue University in January, repeatedly held off veteran James Hinchcliffe throughout the 67-lap Fuzzys Ultra Premium Vodka 100.
Bill Adam, 64, of Ft. Lauderdale, used a 2005 ALMS Audi R8 LMP1 car to win the Historic Sportscar Racing series' headliner Saturday. The six lap class headliner was one of nine HSR features run on HMS' 2.21-mile road course.
Saturday night's program was seen, according to one unofficial report, by 12,000 spectators. HMS, after a 15-year run with the IRL and CART, is being dropped from the former's calendar. Track owner International Speedway Corp. and the IRL cite disagreements over promotional goals and sanctioning fees for the split, which also ends runs at Kentucky and Chicagoland speedways plus Watkins Glen Int'l.
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