Franchitti dominates IRL race


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Pole-sitter Dario Franchitti led all but nine laps and held off Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon with the help of a late caution Saturday night, giving the points leader his first IndyCar Series victory at Richmond.

Franchitti, whose position in the standings got him the top starting spot when Friday night’s qualifying was rained out, gave up the lead only twice, and even then it was during pit stops under caution. His victory was sealed when a late caution allowed him to conserve fuel, and he pulled away with ease on a restart with six laps to go.

“I enjoy driving it a lot,” he said of the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway, the smallest track in the IndyCar Series. “I think it suits my style a little bit.”

It was the third victory of the season and eighth straight top-five finish for the leader of the four-car Andretti Green Racing team, and made him the second consecutive winner at Richmond to set a record by leading the most laps in series history.

Last year, Sam Hornish Jr. led 212 circuits in his runaway victory.

Franchitti was even more dominant, and padded his points lead with his second straight victory, both on short tracks. He won last week at .875-mile Iowa Speedway.

Scott Dixon was second and moved to second in points, 65 behind. Dan Wheldon was third and Tony Kanaan fourth, and they now share third, 72 points behind Franchitti. The race was the ninth of 17 scheduled, essentially the halfway point of the season.

Franchitti said when qualifying was rained out that he was fortunate because his car wasn’t good, and he said a gamble by his team’s engineers paid off in the race.

“I’m not going to go into too much details, but it worked,” he said.

It also helped him that Hornish created a buffer of sorts between him and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dixon and Wheldon in the final 80 laps. Hornish had fallen back early and spent the night trying to recover to the chagrin of Dixon.

“We probably would have had a shot at him if it wasn’t for Sam sort of trying to get a lap back when he was three laps down,” Dixon said.

The race was tough for Hornish, the defending race and series champion.

Almost immediately after passing the start/finish line at the start of the race, Hornish’s Team Penske car spun into the infield grass. He finished 15th.

AP-ES-06-30-07 2143EDT