Sunday, on Chicagoland Speedway's 1.5-mile asphalt tri-oval, the IndyCar Series' driving championship will yet again be definitively settled when the checkered flag flies over the Peak Antifreeze 300 presented by Mr. Clean. In one of the closest...
Sunday, on Chicagoland Speedway's 1.5-mile asphalt tri-oval, the IndyCar Series' driving championship will yet again be definitively settled when the checkered flag flies over the Peak Antifreeze 300 presented by Mr. Clean.
In one of the closest title pursuits in its 12 seasons, IRL's premier series' dramatic 2007 finish is similar to that of 2006 when the championship title also had to first go through Chicagoland.
However, on the way, the IRL's paddock attitude has become slightly baser this year, possibly leaving the championship to be later settled off the track by team principals, perhaps accompanied by seconds, and not their respective drivers.
Before getting much deeper into current rants, a brief recent-history review is in order.
Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti -- a class act -- goes into the Chicagoland race leading Scott Dixon -- another class act -- by a scant three points, as the result of the former driver finishing sixth and the latter eighth in Sunday's Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone.
Days earlier, Dixon drove away from Infineon Raceway's Motorola 300 and into Detroit with a four-point lead over Franchitti, who alternately had entered the Sonoma, Calif., race with an eight-point lead. (Got that?)
Talk about ping-pong! Three point-lead changes between two drivers over three races!
(The IRL's battle is beginning to look like the Rolex Series' Daytona Prototypes points race between Scott Pruett, Max Angelelli and teammates Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, wherein the above drivers' three teams have each held or shared the championship points lead at the end of each of that series' last four races and, like the IRL, have but one final race in which to settle it: the Sept. 15 Sunchaser 1000k in Salt Lake City.)
Yet, it was only seven races ago, at about the hump of IndyCar's 17-race 2007 season, when Franchitti had a fairly comfortable 65-point lead over Dixon, the 2003 IndyCar champ.
Franchitti has since seen his lead steadily dwindle to today's narrow margin after the driver finished out of the top-5 in three of his last four races.
Holding three 2007 first-place finishes - all on ovals - the last time Franchitti visited Victory Lane was at Richmond in late June.
Meanwhile, Dixon's last four races have included one win, giving him four overall in 2007, three of which were on road courses.
With only 50-, 40- and 35-points to be respectively distributed between IndyCar's first-, second- and third-place finishers, one might have expected Dixon and Franchitti to at some point be in each others' faces -- especially after Sunday's dust-up between the two at Belle Isle.
On Lap 88 of Detroit's 89 laps, Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing car encountered a suddenly slowing, out-of-gas but still in second-place Buddy Rice (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing).
"I wasn't anticipating on trying to pass (Rice)," Dixon said later of the incident.
Dixon nipped the slowing Rice, spun and, as a result, collected Franchitti's Andretti Green Racing/Canadian Club car.
"Those two were battling it out," Rice lamented, "and to take them out with a lap to go or get involved in an accident because I ran out of fuel is just disappointing for everybody involved."
After a race full of clean moves between Dixon and Franchitti, the wreck actually bettered Franchitti's end-of-race standing vis-à-vis that of Dixon and provided the Scotsman with the tenuous points lead he takes into this weekend's Chicagoland race.
"Scott has raced me cleanly all year and I've raced him cleanly," Franchitti said. "I don't think he would have done it intentionally."
Somehow, AGR team principals Michael Andretti and Kevin Savoree saw it differently, with the former playing lead-off hitter from his team's pits.
"That was just poor sportsmanship. He blatantly took Dario out of the race," Andretti said after the wreck but before he and Savoree encountered Chip Ganassi and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's "No. 1" Mike Hull.
According to Hull, it was then that Andretti and, especially, Savoree abandoned any pretext of civility.
"In all my years of racing, in all my years of doing anything, never before have I seen someone trying to bait another person like Kevin was trying to bait Chip," a flabbergasted Hull said during a Tuesday telephone conversation.
"He used some of the foulest language possible and I'm fully convinced he was using it an attempt to get Chip to take a swing at him."
"Some of Dario's sponsors were standing there and I feel badly for them in having been exposed to such a scene. I'm just glad we didn't have any Target people standing around to see such unprofessional conduct. It was an embarrassing moment for our sport."
Asked for a comment Wednesday morning, Andretti-Green Racing didn't respond.
Though tempted to ask IndyCar's John Griffin for a comment, too, one just deep-down knows he and others in IndyCar's upper echelon are cheering the controversy that likely will push-up interest in this weekend's race.
Heck, I ain't gonna miss it.
Franchitti, by virtue of his apparent 2007 oval-track mastery, is my choice at Chicagoland but it's Chip upon whom I'll place the rest of my coffee can's contents. Shovel in hand, I'm heading for the backyard, now.
Written Exclusively for Motorsport.com by DC Williams