Franchitti Steals Race and Championship on Last Lap as Dixon Runs Dry

JOLIET, IL: The 2007 Indy Racing League Championship
came down to a fuel mileage gamble between
championship contenders Dario Franchitti and Scott
Dixon at the Peak Antifreeze 300 at Chicagoland
Speedway on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Both threw
the dice, and Dixon rolled snake-eyes coming off turn
four while leading with the checkered flag in sight!

The fuel mileage dual was set up when Vitor Meira
crashed due to a suspected suspension failure on lap
137. At the time, Team Penske and several other front
runners had made green flag pit stops. During the
extended yellow period to repair the Safer Barrier,
most of the contenders refueled, while Dario and Dixon
stayed out and wound up on the tail of the lead lap.
Then, just before the race went back to green on lap
152, both ducked in to top off their fuel. Confused?
You’re not alone!

Earlier, Team Penske, which strangely has never won at
Joliet, had dominated the race, running a solid
one-two for the first 130 laps, before settling for
third and fourth in the final standings.

Until the last corner of the last lap, Scott Dixon was
in position to take the Championship, as Franchitti
was never quit able to get in front of his rival. I
guess it would be safe to say that the Championship
truly came down to the wire!

In a wild Victory Lane, the winner was asked to
comment on his dramatic victory:

“Most of the race I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t
pass the guys in front because they were running side
by side. There were times the car wasn’t handling so
well, and then in that last bit it was handling well,
but I couldn’t do anything. And then people started
pitting, Dan (Wheldon) ran out of fuel and it was just
Scott (Dixon) and I. We came down that backstretch and
I was drafting him trying to get a slingshot. Just as
I pulled out I saw him slow down and I almost hit the
back of him as I was just going out. It was
some good fuel saving and some great strategy from my
boys on the Canadian Club Team and the whole Andretti
Green Team. They are the best team in the world.”

Race and Championship runner up Scott Dixon was able
to put his defeat in perspective:

“Nobody seemed to want to lead. I think the Penske
guys had it right with coming in earlier and topping
off and leaving us out there to try to fend for
ourselves. I’d been working with those guys all
day, and they were a big help, Sam (Hornish Jr.) and
Helio(Castroneves). But it just seemed like the 27 car
was getting a lot better fuel mileage all day. We were
on even par with that last stop, coming in together
and topping off, but they just seemed to be back in
the pack saving fuel and we didn’t have enough. But I
pretty much knew going back to the restart
that it was going to be a slim chance. We of course
wanted yellows, that was going to make it a lot
easier. I tried to get Dan (Wheldon) to lead
and then I think he had a problem out there. And then
I tried to get the Penske guys to lead, but nobody
seemed to want to, and it was quite obvious the reason

Defending IRL champ Sam Hornish Jr. tried to explain
how Team Penske managed to come up short after
dominating most of the event:

“I’m very disappointed we didn’t get the win today, I
was hoping for number 20. We definitely had the
fastest car, and it’s just unfortunate things ended up
the way they did. I’m not sure how the leaders
were able to save so much fuel, but it is what it is.
Helio(Castroneves) and I had the cars to beat out
there and it’s just a shame Team Penske didn’t get the
win and end the season on a high note.”

Several of the non-contenders ended their seasons with
something to remember.

A.J. Foyt IV made the biggest early move, charging
from his 18th starting position to run consistently in
the top 10 all day. Hopefully Foyt, who apparently
doesn’t have a solid ride for 2008, opened some eyes
with his performance.

Also, rookie Hedeki Mutoh, making his first IRL start
with Panther Racing, was credited with running the
race’s fastest lap. Mutoh, who was knocked off the
lead lap during the confusing yellow flag sequence for
Meira’s accident, ran solidly and safely with the lead
pack during the final laps. Impressive…

And now…the off season begins. Will Dario Franchitti
and Sam Hornish Jr., the two most recent Indy winners
and IRL champions, return to the series that made them
rich and famous, or will the lure on NASCAR remove two
more stars of open wheel racing.

Stay tuned…

Final results: Peak Antifreeze 300:
1. (1) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
2. (6) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 200, Running
3. (2) Sam Hornish Jr., Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
5. (11) Scott Sharp, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
6. (4) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 199, Running
7. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
8. (13) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
9. (19) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
10. (18) A.J. Foyt IV, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
11. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 198, Running
12. (17) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 196, Running
13. (5) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 193, Out of Fuel
14. (21) Marty Roth, Dallara-Honda, 190, Running
15. (22) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 184, Running
16. (14) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 164, Running
17. (16) Kosuke Matsuura, Dallara-Honda, 156, Electrical
18. (15) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 133, Contact
19. (20) P.J. Chesson, Dallara-Honda, 94, Running
20. (9) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 73, Mechanical
21. (8) Darren Manning, Dallara-Honda, 62, Mechanical
22. (10) Marco Andretti,Dallara-Honda, 34, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 173.886 mph

Time of race: 1:44:53.7950

Margin of victory: 1.8439 seconds

Cautions: 3 caution flags for 27 laps

Lead changes: 13 among 5 drivers

Lap leaders: Hornish 1-38, Castroneves 39-85, Dixon 86-88, Franchitti 89-92, Castroneves 93-101, Hornish 102-129, Dixon 130-135, Franchitti 136-140, Dixon 141-159, Hornish 160-183, Dixon 184-190, Wheldon 191-193, Dixon 194-200.

Point standings: Franchitti 637, Dixon 624, Kanaan 576, Wheldon 466, Hornish 465, Castroneves 446, Patrick 424, Sharp 412, Rice 360, Scheckter 357.

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