Franchitti Wins It All

JOLIET, Ill. ? The IndyCar Series’ championship-determining race had it all: intriguing storylines, compelling personalities, late-race strategy and high-speed drama. Just the way the sanctioning Indy Racing League, spectators at Chicagoland Speedway, fans worldwide and contenders would want it set up.

The only thing missing was a half-gallon of ethanol from Scott Dixon’s fuel cell.

On the most important lap of his racing career, Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganaasi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone gasped for fuel on the backstretch of the white flag lap, throwing open the window that Dario Franchitti had sought the previous 199. The air suddenly was crisp and the view of the checkered flag as sweet as the rain-soaked one at Indianapolis almost four months earlier.

“Was that enough excitement for you?” said Franchitti, the 2007 IndyCar Series champion.

Indeed. Franchitti, the pole sitter, entered the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean with a three-point advantage over Dixon and 39 over Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan. The final margin was 13 points, which easily could have turned in Dixon’s favor if for a smidge better fuel economy.

A Lap 194 caution flag (only the third of the race) brought out when Danica Patrick’s car spun at the entrance to pit lane set the two-lap shootout on the 1.52-mile, high-banked oval with Dixon and Franchitti running 1-2. Both had last pitted under yellow (for the No. 4 car of Vitor Meira making contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4) on Lap 148 for 22 gallons of ethanol and fresh Firestone Firehawks.

On the restart, Franchitti and third-running Sam Hornish Jr. attempted to split Dixon’s No. 9 target Chip Ganassi Racing car on the outside to no avail. Dixon led Franchitti by half a car-length as they crossed the start/finish line for the white flag. But as Franchitti processed a race- and title-winning move exiting Turn 4, Dixon’s car “twitched.”

Franchitti overtook Dixon in Turn 3 and went on to the victory and his first career championship.

“I was drafting and going for the slingshot, and just as I pulled out I saw him slow down,” said Franchitti, the third consecutive Indianapolis 500 winner to win the IndyCar Series title in the same season. “I almost hit the back of him. Once I corrected that, I knew that the race and the championship were ours. And I kind of went crazy from there to the finish line, and that was it.

“I think again it’s cool that it came down to just Scott and I. There was something about that. We said all year, even with a 65?point lead, I kept saying it’s going to be close. It’s going to be close. Comes down to Scott and I last corner, last lap. That pretty much sums up the year.”

Dixon, who used a three-race July winning streak to securely move into contention, led 41 laps — including 13 of the final 16. What a way to be eliminated — after four victories and 13 top-five finishes. His car rolled across the finish line 1.8439 seconds behind Franchitti’s No. 27 Canadian Club entry. Had Dixon prevailed, he would have claimed the title by seven points.

“It just seemed like the 27 car was getting a lot better fuel mileage all day,” he said. “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. I think at that point you always are just hoping that you’re going to have the amount of fuel you need to get to the end. When you look at it, we were really only a corner away from it. I think at that stage I was more worried that there wasn’t any radio communication. Because when the radio is quiet there’s something about to happen.

“But I knew it was going to be very tough. So all we were trying to do was have a good restart and maybe try and carry the momentum to the finish.”

Hornish, who led a field-high 90 laps, finished third and Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves was fourth. Scott Sharp closed fast for fifth place. Marco Andretti, whose No. 26 NYSE car make hard contact with the SAFER Barrier on Lap 15, was released from a local hospital after a CAT scan showed no injuries.

Franchitti delivered the third series title for Andretti Green Racing, a series record. It is the seventh time that the title points margin has been 20 points or less.

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