IRL: Franchitti edges Hornish in Nashville shootout

It was a great night for Franklin, Tennessee resident Dario Franchitti who survived a nine-lap shootout with Sam Hornish Jr. and Patrick Carpentier to prevail by a margin of 1.3163 seconds in the Firestone Indy 200 over the 1.33-mile Nashville ...

It was a great night for Franklin, Tennessee resident Dario Franchitti who survived a nine-lap shootout with Sam Hornish Jr. and Patrick Carpentier to prevail by a margin of 1.3163 seconds in the Firestone Indy 200 over the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway.

Franchitti, who started the race in fourth position, was clearly on a mission all evening long, as he led 74 laps and was the sole member of the four-car Andretti Green Racing team to complete the distance. He took home one of the most unusual trophies in all of motorsports, a Gibson guitar painted by noted artist Sam Bass.

The Scot was unaware of the suspension problems that stopped lap leader Tony Kanaan (75 laps led), point leader Dan Wheldon and race leader Bryan Herta. His team thought it wiser to keep him in the dark as he took on all comers.

"We've had such a fast car all year but terrible luck," Franchitti acknowledged. He had a wheel bearing failure in the warmup, "So we feel like we got our bad luck out of the way early. We made a lot of adjustments this morning and they made the car better. I love the challenge of these short tracks," the Scot declared.

Franchitti was impressed by Carpentier's third place finish after "racing against the guy since 1997." Carpentier had led from the final caution and was overhauled, first by Franchitti on lap 193 and then by Hornish on the 198th lap.

For second finisher Hornish it was "and up and down race. We started back in the pack (13th) but we had a really good handling car and I thought I had a shot at the win."

Hornish had a problem with the fuel nozzle on one of his stops that put him back and recognized he made an error in judgment on a restart when he went high and got into the marbles. "I had to make it up to the guys and at least we gained some valuable points."

Carpentier's second podium in his first year of Indy Racing League competition from 17th grid slot had the French Canadian veteran smiling ear to ear. "I tried to stay in front of these guys but they had the speed in the corners" that he lacked. "We still don't have the fastest car out there but the team played amazingly into the strategy and we had a lot of luck."

It wasn't easy for Carpentier, who had contact with Ryan Briscoe that caused a debris caution from laps 133 to 137. "I hit Ryan and it destroyed my nose. They lifted and I never expected them to lift, so I rear-ended them." After getting his nose replaced, he had sufficient fuel to make it to the end, "so that was good," Carpentier admitted.

Behind the podium trio, Scott Sharp earned fourth and related, "We had a great car; the best short-track car I've had in I don't know how many years." Helio Castroneves took fifth place from 15th on the grid and was "extremely happy. We struggled to find speed early in the weekend," Castroneves related, "but we kept fighting."

Scott Dixon tied his best finish of the season in sixth but still "struggled with the final two restarts because we decided to only take on fuel, but I'm pretty satisfied with the race we ran."

Danica Patrick finished seventh and led nine laps by using alternative fuel strategy and learned "the tires need some time to work in with each pit stop so we weren't fast early in each stint. When we settle into our spot on the restarts, we're fine and the car feels good. I think we were close to the fast race lap tonight so the speed is there."

Ryan Briscoe recovered from contact with Carpentier to take his best result of eighth, a result that wasn't without other problems, including being pushed into the wall by Tomas Scheckter at one point. "I had to come in for a new tire and almost lost a lap, but the car was definitely competitive tonight."

Buddy Lazier was ninth despite restart problems, "but other than that it was a great run. On the restarts "we would get bogged down between third and fourth gear," he explained. Ed Carpenter rounded out the top ten, a lap down, yet felt "it was a good night for us; it's our first top 10 and best finish of the year."

With the elimination of many front-runners due to contact, Roger Yasukawa took 11th place and exhaled, "Finally we had a decent finish," A.J. Foyt IV was twelfth and Jimmy Kite was the final driver to complete the event, five laps down in 13th.

This ninth race of a 17-event campaign rose and fell on caution periods, as the contest was interrupted three times for contact. Polesitter Tomas Scheckter gave way to Franchitti by the fifth lap and the Scot remained at the front until lap 27

On that lap, Tomas Enge's suspension apparently failed and he performed a quarter-spin to contact the SAFER barrier in turn 1. Complaining of lower back pain, Enge was taken to University Medical Center in nearby Lebanon for an MRI, where it was discovered he had fractures of the T12 and L1 vertebrae. Enge was released late Saturday night.

When the track went green again on lap 38, Herta was in the lead (by not pitting) but quickly found himself in Kanaan's sights, forced to give way on the 39th lap. The track stayed green, forcing green flag pit stops between laps 92 and 96 for the full field but Kanaan continued in front until lap 115, when his suspension broke and he collected Darren Manning in the first turn.

Both Kanaan and Manning were released from the medical center without injury and the track went green again on the 131st lap but not for long. That was when Carpentier and Briscoe had their real estate dispute, scattering debris along the track's fourth turn.

The race resumed on the 138th lap but would slow once more for a tow-in for polesitter Scheckter who stopped without power in the first turn after an oil line apparently broke. "We lost oil pressure immediately," the South African explained. "It was another race where we were just waiting for the moment to turn it up and never got there."

The final caution came after contact between Alex Barron and Vitor Meira on the 175th lap. Barron had stayed out during the prior caution and was at the front of the field with his teammate Carpentier when "a Penske car tried to stuff it in there and there was nowhere to go." The duo wrecked in a fiery mass but both emerged without apparent injury.

The victory tonight for Franchitti was his third and first this season. Wheldon still leads the point chase with 347 and Kanaan holds 274, but Franchitti upped the ante with 269 points of his own. Castroneves has 260 points and Hornish lies fifth with 256. Sharp's consistency has him lying sixth with 230 points.

Next weekend the IndyCar Series returns to The Milwaukee Mile, site of Franchitti's first IRL win in 2004. The Scot has, apparently become the master of short tracks, a distinction he enjoys.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Jimmy Kite , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Ryan Briscoe , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira