IRL Iowa Corn Indy 250

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Franchitti wins Indy Car Series race at Iowa

Jun 24, 2007 - 10:23 PM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

NEWTON, Iowa (Ticker) -- Entering Sunday's IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250, most drivers predicted it would be difficult to pass on the new Iowa Speedway short oval.

The key word should have been "desperate" to pass.

Dario Franchitti had the advantage late, and Andretti Green Racing teammate Marco Andretti couldn't pass the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner.

Franchitti defeated Andretti by 0.0681 seconds in a race that featured 13 lead changes among eight drivers. But only one of those was a green-flag pass on the race track.

That's when Franchitti passed Buddy Rice on a restart when the race went green on lap 151.

This was a race that required desperate measures to make a pass - with crashes and mechanical failure knocking out some of the leading contenders. Once Franchitti was back in front on lap 219, he drove to his second checkered flag of the season.

"It was so critical to pick up places on starts and restarts if you wanted to move forward," Franchitti said. "The cars were so close; they were within thousandths of a second with each other. That makes it hard to pass.

"I was pretty aggressive on restarts as well because I knew that was my big chance to make up places as well. It was more critical today to push hard on restarts."

Scott Sharp had his highest finish of the season in third and agreed there was plenty of desperation on restarts.

"It was definitely fast and tight, and I expected that," Sharp said. "It became a battle for the bottom line and for a lot of people the only place they could make passes was on restarts. We dodged about three accidents we should have been taken out of happened right in front of me. We were fortunate to get through those and finish third."

Buddy Rice was fourth and Darren Manning fifth, both scoring season-best performances in a race where five cars finished on the lead lap.

Being on the bottom was the best place to be on this short oval. So when Andretti pulled even with the rear wheel on Franchitti's car in the final three laps, he didn't have enough extra speed to make the pass.

"It's hard to pass him when I'm running the same speed as him," Andretti said. "At that point, I was just trying to protect each other because I knew I had nothing for him.

"This place is different. It's a short oval but it's flat out, so you have to treat it like a superspeedway."

The IndyCar Series was a big hit in the state of Iowa, as there were more fans at the race than there were seats at the track. An announced crowd of 35,838 fans came to the track that has 27,500 permanent seats, with another 5,000 temporary seats added.

The traffic jam off Interstate 80 was so long, there were still fans waiting to park their cars 50 laps into the race.

It was an unusual but welcome problem for the IndyCar Series, which draws well over 300,000 for the Indy 500 but rarely plays in front of packed grandstands away from Indiana.

"The biggest boost was the enthusiasm of the fans and the people of Iowa," Franchitti said. "They love their oval-track racing, they came out, showed enthusiasm, was passionate about it and they showed it not only today but all weekend."

Those fans saw a short-track race that featured six cautions for 67 laps, including three crashes that took out some of the leading contenders in the series points standings.

The first came at the start of the race, when Dan Wheldon's car spun in the second turn and slammed into the outside wall in front of Tomas Scheckter, who also crashed.

"I am shocked," Wheldon said. "It doesn't seem like anything is going my way right now."

Pole-sitter Scott Dixon had to pit on the restart on lap 13 when he had a steering problem that would keep him in the pits until lap 91.

Helio Castroneves was the leader when he pitted for the first time on lap 71. But as he exited pit road, the cold tires on the hard track sent him into a spin in the pit exit area of turn 2. Two laps later, the yellow flag waved for a caution.

When the green flag waved to restart the race on lap 83, Vitor Meira was in the lead. Three laps later, Tony Kanaan spun in the second turn and crashed into Jeff Simmons, knocking both cars out of the race.

"I spun, it was a cold tire situation, tried to go outside and it didn't work," Kanaan said. "I was having a good run and ran into some turbulence, just got loose and hit the wall. I think we had a good run, especially with so many cars in the championship out of contention. I think I just helped some of those guys out."

Kanaan entered Sunday trailing Franchitti by 12 points. But after finishing 16th, Kanaan is now 51 points behind the race winner.

Those two incidents only served as the preliminary to "The Big One," when the race was restarted on lap 100.

A.J. Foyt IV tried to jump the restart to make up positions when the green flag waved. Ed Carpenter also got a good start and went to the inside of Danica Patrick while Foyt went to the outside.

As Carpenter moved up and Foyt moved down as Franchitti went to his outside, there was not enough room and Patrick bounced between Foyt and Carpenter like a ping-pong ball at the start-finish line.

Before it was over, six cars were involved in the crash, including Kosuke Matsuura, Sam Hornish Jr., Castroneves, Foyt, Patrick and Carpenter.

Matsuura, Hornish, Foyt and Patrick were all knocked out of the race.

"It looked like whoever was on the outside of me passed me before the green even happened, and then underneath me was Ed Carpenter and I had nowhere to go," Patrick said. "Dario was the fourth car on the outside, and he was next to the car that was to the right of me (Foyt). It looked like a matter of everyone squeezing down with nowhere to go.

"It (stinks). It looks like this is just a lost race."

Patrick finished 13th and Hornish 14th.

"Unfortunately, we got caught on a restart that was a complete mess," Hornish said. "The leader wasn't up to speed on the back straight which caused everyone to check up. Then cars were four-wide down the front straight, and nobody wanted to lift."

Franchitti was fortunate to survive that incident unscathed, allowing him to easily cruise to the victory in a race where he led three times for 96 laps.

"At one point I was four-wide going across the start-finish line or a restart," Franchitti said. "I didn't take any further part, so I was pretty lucky. I saw most of the contenders in the championship had problems, so we couldn't do anything stupid."

Franchitti averaged 123.896 miles per hour and collected $115,800 for the win.

But to show how strange this race was because of attrition, Dixon finished 10th, 77 laps down. He was one spot ahead of his teammate Wheldon, who was 105 laps down to the leaders.

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