Franchitti wins IndyCar finale and title
Franchitti, who was 24.9643 seconds back as Briscoe's No. 6 Team Penske car hit pit lane, moved to the front as Briscoe hit the acceleration lane. Franchitti won by 4.7888 seconds, while Scott Dixon finished third.
The top three finishers were the only drivers who entered the season-ending race with a chance to win the title on the 1.5-mile oval. Franchitti finished the season with 616 points, Dixon with 605 and Briscoe with 604.
"We were sticking with our strategy," said Franchitti, who needed to win the race to win the title. "I cannot believe it. What a year for this Target team; it's been so much fun. Scott and I raced each other hard all season and it came down to this."
It was the second consecutive title for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, as Dixon won in 2008. Franchitti won his first season championship in 2007 with Andretti Green Racing.
The three title contenders led 198 of the 200 laps.
The start of the race saw Dario jump out front, as the pack followed and diced about. Alex Lloyd got a little "punked" (or maybe "pink-ed" is the more fitting term!) at the start and dropped back and never really recovered.
In fact, both NHLR cars dropped back at the start right away, and Chip Ganassi said they ran too little downforce on their car and couldn’t work well in traffic.
Dario knew he didn’t quite have the car to stay with them, but knew he could run lean and mean and stay in touch with the leaders.
Briscoe took the lead on Lap 151, with Dixon in close pursuit, when Franchitti entered the pits for the final time on Lap 150. Briscoe and Dixon had stopped on Lap 144.
Briscoe and Dixon then pulled away from Franchitti over the next 35 laps, as Briscoe led Dixon by 0.1850 of a second on Lap 187. Franchitti was the only other car on the lead lap, 23.8841 seconds behind Briscoe.
Tony Kanaan's inspiring drive from 15th on the grid to fourth at the checkers moved him up two positions in the final drivers' championship standings, to sixth, just behind his Andretti Green Racing teammate, Danica Patrick, who was eliminated from today's contest following a pit-lane collision with Dan Wheldon.
Helio Castroneves rebounded from a crash in practice, caused by suspension failure, to finish fifth; with Hideki Mutoh rounding out the top six. Luczo Dragon Racing's Raphael Matos had a disappointing run to finish 14th, four laps down, but still secured series Rookie of the Year honors.
(Can you believe it?): "No, I can't. I can't," said Franchitti.
"Like 2007, I just had to try to save some fuel and stay on strategy. And it just worked out. The Target car wasn't great early that first stint. Chris (Simmons, crew chief) and the boys made some changes. From the second stint on, we were right there. But we had lost so much ground. We were saving fuel. We were sticking to our strategy. The car was really good at the end. A win is a win. On the cool-down lap, I was thinking of my buddy Greg (Moore). Ten years ago this month, I was battling Juan Pablo Montoya for the CART Championship and it also came down to the final race of the year. I didn't win, but that became irrelevant when we lost my good friend, Greg Moore, that day. This win is for him."
"It's been a hell of a year for the Target boys. I've got to thank Chip (Ganassi) for giving me a job."
Afterward, Chip Ganassi walked into the press room for the press conference, and the first thing he sees is a leftover box of Dunkin Donuts munchkins, which he grabs "Hey, gimme some of those..." and then proceeded to eat them at the press conference table for his interview.
So ends another exciting season of IndyCar Racing. There is now a 5-month break until the 2010 season starts in Brazil. We'll have all the off-season news of who is going to drive where, and maybe, with any luck, the series might even announce a much needed title sponsor at some point.
Scott Morris contributed to this article.
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, second): "It's pretty frustrating. It was one of the best races I've ever run. I just hate that it came down to fuel strategy. It's a whole championship. Dario (Franchitti) has been great all year long, so congrats to him. It's hurts." (Did you think it was yours to win?): "I thought it was going to be between me and Scott, definitely. I guess the 10 car (Franchitti) had the advantage."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, third): "At the start of the race, I didn't think it would be wise to go out and burn a lot of fuel. It ended being the fact and coming true. You just have to take it on the chin and come back and try again next year. At the end of the year, you'd think the fastest car is going to win, but several times, it hasn't been. I think Briscoe and I had a pretty good race going on, but we got what we got."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, fourth): "It was a long race. It looks like those three guys (Franchitti, Briscoe, Dixon) were in another league. I think it was an A-league and a B-league, but we tried. We did what we could. The car was OK. It was just not fast enough, so I guess we'll take the fourth place. After the season that we had, to finish up with a top four, it is what it is."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, fifth): "It was two races. There was those three guys (Franchitti, Briscoe and Dixon) and then the rest of the field. It's a shame. But first, I want to thank all the people here. They were awesome. I mean, I was thirsty; I can imagine you guys. Our Penske boys and Ryan did everything they could to bring this championship home. It's a shame. But fifth is definitely good for us. Fourth in the championship. And I have nothing complain about this year. It was a fantastic year. It was a bit difficult, but I have to thank the fans that supported me all the way through. Indy was great. So thank you, everybody. Next year, it's going to be different. Hopefully going to be different."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing, 14th, 2009 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year): "I'm very happy. It couldn't be better. I think this title means a lot to me and a lot to the team. There's a lot of famous names in the Rookie of the Year gallery and I dreamed about (joining them). I think this shows that we are ready for bigger and better things in the series."
MARIO MORAES (No. 5 Azul Tequila/Votorantim/KVRT, seventh): "The KV Racing Technology team didn't qualify the way we wanted. Then we lost some more ground during the first stint of the race. But for the last two stints, the car was really good. And on the last stint I had one of the fastest cars on the track, so I was able to pick up some positions. Of course, I am a little disappointed, but finishing seventh wasn't too bad. This was a very tough season, for a lot of reasons. We had had a fast car all season, especially in qualifying. But there were a lot of things going on, and we had some bad luck. Then things changed and started going our way. We had some good races at the end of the season finishing in the top-five and getting our first podium, so overall, because of the way we ended the season, I am happy. I definitely learned a lot from last year to this year. Actually, I learned more this year than at any other time in my racing career. For that, I have to thank Kevin Kalkhoven, Jimmy Vasser, Mark Johnson, all the KVRT engineers and mechanics. Everyone worked hard all season and did a great job."
ALEX LLOYD (No. 40202 HER Energy/Newman/Haas/Lanigan, eighth): "All in all, it was a pretty good day for the HER Energy team. We lost a quite a few places on the start, and I think that was just me being overly cautious. I've never raced an Indy car on a 1.5-mile oval, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect in Turn 1. Everybody just nailed it, and I lifted too much and we got swarmed by people. In the second half of that stint, we had a good car and came through quite a few cars, so I thought, 'OK, this is looking quite good.' I felt like we could race with some of the quick guys. And then as the race went on, every stint we started to get more and more understeer that we couldn't get rid of, and that really cost us. We finished about where we were at the end of the day. All in all, it was a good day. There are a lot of things that I am learning as I go along, which is an extremely good thing. We had a good car all weekend. We certainly could have been a little bit better in the race, but I think we came away with some really good things, a lot of positives. There were a lot more positives than negatives, so I'm definitely happy, and I think everybody at HER Energy will be happy, too."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, sixth): "Physically, it was a very tough race for me. I am still recovering a bit from my crash during qualifying at Motegi, but the car was fantastic overall and very good in traffic. I have to thank my guys. They did a great job all night, and we were able to gain some positions during pit stops. I had a great season with the team, and a sixth-place finish is a nice way to end the year."
Winner's average speed: 201.420 mph
Time of race: 1:28:28.3117
Margin of victory: 4.7888 seconds
Cautions: No caution flags
Lead changes: 12 among 4 drivers
Lap leaders: Franchitti 1-5, Dixon 6-47, Franchitti 48-50,
Castroneves 51-52, Dixon 53-62, Briscoe 63-95, Franchitti 96-
100, Briscoe 101-105, Dixon 106-123, Briscoe 124-144, Franchitti 145-150, Briscoe 151-194, Franchitti 195-200.
Point standings: Franchitti 616, Dixon 605, Briscoe 604,
Castroneves 433, Patrick 393, Kanaan 386, Rahal 385, Andretti 380, Wilson 354, Wheldon 354.
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