Franchitti Edges Power for IZOD IndyCar Series Title
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti grabbed an eighth-place finish in the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and captured his second straight and third series championship by edging out Penske Racing's Will Power by five points.
Power, who took the Homestead-Miami green flag leading Franchitti by 12 championship points, placed a disappointing 25th in the 17th event of the season after starting third and finding trouble on Lap 135 of 200 when his No. 12 car scraped the Turn 4 wall and brought out the third of five race caution periods.
He held a 59-point championship advantage over Franchitti with four races remaining on the schedule, but saw the eventual title winner rip through the closing stretch of the season with a Chicagoland Speedway victory and a total of three top-five and four top-10 finishes.
Franchitti led at Homestead-Miami a race-high six times for a race-high 128 laps, but eased into championship protection mode following Power's incident. The strategy nearly backfired when Milka Duno's No. 18 car spun in front of Franchitti's No. 10 car in Turn 4 with 24 laps remaining in the race. Franchitti successfully avoided contact and coasted across the finish line with his 15th top-10 finish of the season. He also earned three victories and a total of 13 top-five finishes this season.
"For whatever reason, both Scott (Dixon) and I maybe didn't have the speed advantage we had last year. In some cases we have to work harder to finish in the top five at races. So to come away with a championship after a season like that is very satisfying. We look back to the 18th-place finish at Iowa and to the failed gearbox that took a lot of points away. From then on, it was a real struggle, but nobody on the team gave up. We did our best every single week and we find ourselves here again. It's great to be out there enjoying that feeling and that moment with my family, my friends and my teammates. It doesn't get any better than that," Franchitti said.
He described the team's championship-clinching strategy.
"I really felt maybe we, along with Scott and probably Tony (Kanaan), were the three cars that were going to fight it out tonight. I knew Scott was very much working with me and Tony was going to do everything he could to help me out.
"I knew that if it came to the situation where we're going to fight it out for the win, those guys were going to be pushing very, very hard, particularly Tony because he's driving for another team. I didn't want to kind of win it doing what we did after Will had his problem, but the guys were just extra cautious. They didn't want me running out of fuel so we took an extra pit stop. That put me back in the pack and amongst all the madness. We had a car that we knew could run up front all night. They told me those last 30 laps 'you've got to finish 10th.'
"When the No. 18 spun, I tried to pull the car down off the wall. I heard the noise when the car hit the wall. It was a big old hit. My plan there was waiting for the field to get single file a bit and start working my way forward if I could because they were four wide, wheel banging, all kinds of crazy stuff. It was an interesting view out there. It was much more fun up front," Franchitti said.
Power completed his third IZOD IndyCar Series season with career best totals in victories with five, top-five finishes with 11 and top-10 finishes with 13 after bouncing back from a career-threatening back injury sustained in a crash last season. He averaged a 13th place finish during the closing four-race stretch of the season. "It's been the best year of my career in motorsports. Obviously, I'm very disappointed at the outcome. I had come to the realization at Lap 120 or something that Dario had led the most laps. We didn't really have the car to win. I was struggling to run anywhere but the top line well anyway. Like I predicted at the beginning of the season, it was the guy and team who made the least amount of mistakes that would win the championship. I think next year I'll come back very strong," Power said.
Dixon, who took the 2008 and 2003 series championships, earned his third victory of the season at Homestead-Miami and closed out his eighth series season with a total of nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes. He led the race five times for a total of 47 laps and carefully navigated his way through three caution periods that dotted the closing 66 race laps.
"We worked on the car for long runs in traffic. It was a little bit loose to start with on the high line and we seemed to fix that. I was kind of just waiting for an opportunity. Towards the end, with so much yellow, it was another stop to go into obviously being a fuel race, which was very hard to monitor. Some people had pitted. We hadn't. So that was definitely the tough part.
"Once the yellows came again, we had a couple of fumbled restarts which definitely helped us with mileage. It was a clear run. I saved the push-to-pass, I think we had 13 to 15 left. I pushed in more towards the end, the car was pretty well hooked up and away it went.
"We had definitely a rough year with lots of missed opportunities and it felt strange coming down to the last race and not really racing for a championship. It was the best we could get out of the last race and it was a huge day," said Dixon, who finished third in this season's points standings and in the series championship top four for the fifth consecutive season and sixth time in his career.
His No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi racing car crossed the finish line 2.7587 seconds ahead of Danica Patrick, who was locked in a tight side-by-side battle for position with third-place driver and her Andretti Autosport teammate Tony Kanaan. Penske Racing drivers Ryan Briscoe claimed fourth and Helio Castroneves took fifth.
Patrick ended the season ranked 10th in the championship standings with three top-five and eight top-10 finishes. Kanaan closed out his ninth series season sixth in the championship standings after taking a victory and a total of seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Briscoe ranks fifth in the final series standings and placed in a championship top five for the third straight season after scoring a victory, eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in his sixth series season. Castroneves, this season's Kentucky Indy 300 winner, completes his 10th anniversary series season fourth in the final standings for the second straight year and in the championship top six for the ninth straight season. He tallied three victories, nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.
Franchitti's title marks the fourth for team owner Chip Ganassi.
"I'm blessed with who I get to work with and that's who provides the foundation that our team stands on, our great group of sponsors and partners. To have the group of guys that we have in Indianapolis and in Charlotte for that matter, that to have consistency and to build consistency and history together, you get rewarded with events like this evening," Ganassi said.
Story by Mike Schmaltz