Dario Franchitti won tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. He led 242 laps, a new record for both the IndyCar Racing Series and this event at Richmond. He surpassed Buddy Lazier's record of 224 laps set at Richmond...
Dario Franchitti won tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. He led 242 laps, a new record for both the IndyCar Racing Series and this event at Richmond. He surpassed Buddy Lazier's record of 224 laps set at Richmond in 2001. The laps Dario did not lead were lost in the pits - nobody passed him on the track tonight. Dario has placed second and third here in the past two years and clearly has something good going with the three-quarter mile tri-oval.
"I enjoy driving it a lot," Franchitti said. "I think it suits me and my style a little bit. The Canadian Club guys gave me a really good car, which makes my job a little easier.
"I have to say a big thank you to the engineering staff at AGR. We took some big gambles last night. Especially Allen McDonald, my engineer - my long suffering engineer - because he took an educated guess today and it really worked out."
With yesterday's qualifying rained out, Franchitti started on the pole tonight, based on season points. He assumed the lead at the initial green. He lost the lead on Lap 64 when teammate Tony Kanaan beat him out of the pits during yellow flag stops. He regained it with a pass on the front stretch after the restart. The pass was more than just a pass: it told him what he had. "The restart," he said, "that's when I knew the car was exceptional. We could pass Tony like that! I think it played into my strengths."
Defending race winner Sam Hornish Jr. started the race badly, spinning into the infield on the initial start. He became a factor in the later stages of the race when, although two laps down, he was running as fast as the leaders and found himself behind Franchitti and ahead of second and third place challengers Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon. The Target Chip Ganassi duo eventually got past Hornish, and closed in on Franchitti, but were still unable to challenge his dominance.
"I think we had the better car," said Dixon, who finished second tonight, "but it was just track position all night. Dario needed to save fuel and you can tell he was using Sam as a buffer. That was the time we needed to get him."
Wheldon, who won here in 2004, and settled for third place this year, found the going tough. "It was a very difficult race," he said, "and very much unlike past races here. When you're in the lead it's good, but when you were trying to get to the leader and pas it was really difficult. To win around here you have to be deserving and we did have a good car and a chance to challenge.
"Dario deserved the win, but at the end of the day for us that was the wrong person to win when you are trying to make up points in the championship."
Tony Kanaan, the only driver besides Franchitti to lead tonight, was disappointed with his fourth place finish. "It was really tough today," he said. "We just never seemed to get the Team 7-Eleven car where I thought it needed to be. We were just hanging on today."
Buddy Rice, who finished fifth tonight after scoring a season-best fourth place last week in Iowa, was pleased. "I'm happy," the 2004 Indy 500 winner said. "The team is showing it has what it takes to compete. We are missing a couple of pieces, but we're capable of running well. We were fast in a test in Miwaukee and another test at Mid-Ohio."
Hornish eventually finished in 15th place, two laps down. "It was a frustrating night," he said. "We had a pretty good car, and I got a little bit of a decent jump on the start on the row in front of me, tried to pull down to go in front of the guys. As soon as I did the back end came around. And not the start to the race that we wanted.
"All I can really say is I apologize to the guys who worked on my car. They do a great job and that was unfortunate. And the first time I've done that."
In addition to setting a new record for laps led, Franchitti's average speed of 133.408 mph eclipsed Sam Hornish's 2006 race record of 129.572 mph.
With three wins, including the Indianapolis 500 now under his belt so far this season, Franchitti's lead in the Championship is now 359 points to second-ranking Scott Dixon with 294 points. Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan are tied for second with 287 points each. Sam Hornish rounds out the top five, with 257 points.
The next IndyCar Series race will be July 8, on the road course at Watkins Glen International.