INDYCAR SERIES PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300

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Franchitti wins race, IndyCar title at Chicago

Sep 10, 2007 - 1:09 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

JOLIET, Illinois (Ticker) -- Dario Franchitti won the 2007 IndyCar Series title when Scott Dixon's fuel tank was not good to the last drop.

Dixon was just two turns away from winning his second career IndyCar title when his IndyCar ran out of fuel in the third turn. That allowed this year's Indianapolis 500 winner to surge ahead and win Sunday's Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean, giving him just enough points to win the title.

Afterwards, Franchitti was able to climb out of his car and take a moment to collect his thoughts and reflect on his accomplishment.

"At that point there was a lot of stuff going on in my head," Franchitti admitted. "I was thinking of a lot of different people, some people who are no longer with us.

"That was just a point to take stock a little bit there and think of what we had achieved. It was nice to have that minute just to compose myself."

Franchitti becomes the third straight driver to win both the Indy 500 and the IndyCar title in the same season, joining Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Sam Hornish Jr. last year.

He will also become the third IndyCar champion to leave the series to join NASCAR when the announcement is finally made later this year after sources confirmed he is leaving Andretti Green Racing for Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team.

Ironically, he beat Ganassi's IndyCar driver for the series championship on Sunday by just 13 points. If Dixon had finished ahead of Franchitti, the native of New Zealand would have beaten Franchitti by seven points.

It was the seventh time in 12 seasons that the championship margin was 20 points or less.

It was a completely unexpected culmination to one of the most intense championship battles in IndyCar history as Franchitti's team was most concerned about the amount of fuel left in the tank. Instead, it was Dixon's car that ran out when he needed it the most.

Because Franchitti and Dixon were the only drivers to come in and top-off the fuel tank during a lengthy caution period from laps 137-151 after Vitor Meira smacked the fourth-turn wall, they were the only two cars to finish on the lead lap. The two title contenders pitted on lap 148 to give what they thought would be enough to make it to the checkered flag.

When Danica Patrick spun while entering the pits on lap 195, it created the third caution period of the race and gave the two drivers a chance to conserve fuel. The green flag waved on lap 198 for a two-lap shootout with Franchitti pulling alongside the leader, Dixon. The two drivers stayed in that formation all the way to the third turn of the final lap before Dixon's tank went empty and his heart sank, ending his title hopes.

"Going into the restart I knew it was going to be very close," Dixon admitted. "We didn't really have it. So going into (turn) 3, it seemed to cut out of fuel and that was it.

"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. All we were trying to do was have a good restart and maybe try and carry the momentum to the finish."

It was the third IndyCar title for Andretti Green Racing. Tony Kanaan won the title in 2004 and Dan Wheldon won it for AGR in 2005. They became the first team to win three IndyCar titles.

Unlike those championships, however, none of his team owners joined him in the media center afterwards. Michael Andretti and Kevin Savoree, co-owners of the team, appeared on the awards stage set up on the frontstretch of Chicagoland Speedway with the championship driver and gave him what one eyewitness called "a contentious hug."

In the final months of the season, Franchitti not only had to battle drivers on other teams but also endure controversy on the team, including the celebrated scapegoat incident at Sonoma, California two weeks ago when Franchitti ran into the back of teammate Marco Andretti, knocking him out of the race while the two were battling for the lead.

"I am thrilled and elated and I know the No. 9 car (Scott Dixon) worked hard all year and it was a fitting end coming down to the two of them," said Franchitti's wife, actress Ashley Judd. "I knew if Dario had a good look he could pass because he has the canniness of a Scot. He understands the technical stuff so exceedingly well it's a particular part of his brilliance.

"I was thrilled when it came down to Scott and him. Dario got robbed a couple times this year by Dan Wheldon at Michigan and by our own teammate in Sonoma and then some unfair tactics at Detroit. It all shuffled out the way it was supposed to be and I'm very, very, very proud."

Franchitti won the race by 1.8439 seconds over Dixon. Three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. was third, followed by Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. Scott Sharp was fifth.

Hornish led three times for 90 laps in the 200-lap contest followed by Castroneves two times for 56. Dixon had his car in front five times for 41 laps and Franchitti was in the lead just three times for 10 laps.

But that included the most important lap of all, the one where the checkered flag waves.

The driver from Edinburgh, Scotland won $111,400 for winning the race but the title is worth $1 million to the driver and team.

He won at an average speed of 173.886 miles per hour in a race that was slowed just three times for 27 laps. The most serious incident involved Marco Andretti who pounded the third turn wall and slid through Turn 4 on lap 35. Andretti was transported to Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet where he complained of neck pain.

CT-Scans were negative and Andretti was released.

But it was the lat yellow flag for Patrick's spin in the pits that at first appeared to be the break the two contenders needed to save fuel.

"John Anderson was telling me on the radio, 'Guys, fuel is critical,'" Franchitti recalled. "I was saving as much and hanging on. That last yellow came out. I saw Dan (Wheldon) park in Turn 3 and I though 'Great, this just gives Scott what he needs. I came around the corner and saw that Danica had spun.

"So that set up the finish."

And it was the finish that brought the unexpected result.

"I got a good restart, got a run on Scott and couldn't make anything happen on the outside," Franchitti explained. "Coming down the last lap I knew what I had to do. I drafted him out as well as I could, just pulled out going into Turn 3. And as I pulled out I saw his car twitch and with him losing the drive, he shot up the track. I had to avoid him and went higher than I would have liked.

"Once I corrected that, I knew that the race and championship were ours."

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