INDYCAR SERIES SunTrust Indy Challenge

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Franchitti wins SunTrust Indy Challenge

Jul 1, 2007 - 2:43 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

RICHMOND, Virginia (Ticker) -- Call Dario Franchitti "Dario the Dominator" after his decisive win in Saturday night's IndyCar SunTrust Indy Challenge.

Franchitti, who was awarded the pole after Friday night's qualifications were rained out, made the most of that opportunity by leading a track-record 242 laps of the 250-lap race at Richmond International Raceway.

The only issue at the end of the race was whether he had enough fuel. But when the yellow flag waved for debris with 12 laps to go, he had enough Ethanol left in the tank to make it the rest of the way.

After a restart with seven laps to go was waved off, Franchitti had an excellent restart with six to go, and he made it the rest of the way to win his third race of the season and second in a row.

"They said, 'You are good on fuel, so now go,'" Franchitti said.

Franchitti, the winner of this year's Indianapolis 500, defeated Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon by 0.4194-seconds. Four of his seven IndyCar Series wins have come on tracks of one mile or less.

"We were going to have to take an educated guess on setup in the race," Franchitti said. "We had to go a different way than Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick. We pulled a lead pretty quick at the start, and I was pleasantly surprised by that."

The only time Franchitti lost the lead was on the first pit stop, when Kanaan beat him out of the pits. But one lap into the restart, Franchitti was back in front to stay.

"I enjoy driving on the short tracks a lot and we get really great cars here," Franchitti said. "The engineering staff took some big gambles last night and it really paid off."

Dan Wheldon was third ,followed by Tony Kanaan of AGR. Buddy Rice of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was fifth.

Sam Hornish Jr. spun out at the start of the race and dropped to last place. He was quickly lapped, but at one point had a car as fast as the race leader. But his spinout was costly as he finished 15th.

"It was really tough to pass, and it was obvious out there," Hornish said. "It's somewhat unfortunate. I don't know how many people you saw pass up the front. It's a shame we did that."

Hornish curiously raced the eventual winner hard in the closing stages of the race, trying to get one of his three laps back, which surprised both Franchitti and Dixon.

Hornish apologized to Dixon afterward as the two crossed paths outside the garage area.

"Sam was trying to pass the leader with 20 laps to go and he was two or three laps down, and I didn't see a good reason in any of that," Dixon said. "It's frustrating because restarts are a place where you try to make a pass going for the lead, and he took that away. I think he ruined that part of the race today."

Franchitti was also shocked by the move.

"I haven't thanked Sam yet," Franchitti said. "I don't think Sam was trying to help me out, but it didn't hurt me towards the end there. Even if Scott did clear him, I don't think he was quick enough."

Not only was Franchitti's 242 laps led a track and IndyCar Series record for most in a race, his average speed of 133.408 miles per hour was a Richmond International Raceway record, topping last year's speed of 129.572 mph set by Hornish.

On a track known for traffic, the man from Edinburgh, Scotland was able to drive to this win with relative ease.

"The biggest problem tonight was fighting the balance issues because it was such low grip," Franchitti said. "If you jumped on the gas, you could really get it loose off turn 4. Traffic was difficult because there were marbles tonight, and it was easy to get off-line."

Franchitti now has a commanding 65-point lead over Dixon in the IndyCar Series points race. But as the series heads to Watkins Glen International for next Sunday's road course race, he doesn't plan on easing up at the halfway point of the season.

"We're way too early in the season to start points racing," Franchitti said. "You do what the car lets you do. It seems with the way the series is, that's more and more difficult."

Franchitti reluctantly joined the IndyCar Series in 2003, when Andretti Green Racing bailed on the Champ Car Series and brought a powerful lineup to the rival league. But just two races into the 2003 season, he suffered a broken back in a motorcycle crash in Scotland.

Although he would return to finish fourth at Pikes Peak International Raceway in June, he had surgery on his back, which sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Now, the reluctant competitor is the hottest driver in the IndyCar Series.

"I had to learn some stuff," Franchitti said. "When I came here my first full season in 2004, I tried to set the car up like a Champ Car, and that wasn't really working. I had to learn the difference. In 2005, we were week in and week out the dominant car because we had terrible luck.

"This year we're getting the luck."

He began his day horrified at the news of the Saturday's terrorist bombing at the Glasgow Airport in his native Scotland and spoke about it before heading out to the starting grid.

"My brother actually called me and told me about it because race days, I don't really pay too much attention to what's going on in the outside world. But it's a big shock," Franchitti said. "We've been very lucky in Scotland. Obviously, we've had the big problems in London, which have been horrendous, but we've really been lucky.

"It drove home today we need to be vigilant all the time. This is just going to increase the security measures in Scottish airports again. Everybody's attitude is, the terrorists are not going to win. You can never give up on that kind of stuff, you have to keep living your life. It would be nice to take a win home tonight and cheer some people up a wee bit."

And that's exactly what he did as "Dario the Dominator."

Now, he'd just like a chance to see more of his home that he shares with his wife, actress Ashley Judd.

"I'd like more time at home with Ashley," Franchitti said. "I'd like more time at home. Like Scott Dixon said, 'You get paid for the PR stuff. You drive the car because you want to.'"

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