RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Dario Franchitti hasn’t lost his touch at Richmond International Raceway, even if he wasn’t so sure during his four-lap qualifying run Friday night.

“The car was understeering off of (turn) two and it was probably oversteering out of four, so it took some hanging onto,” Franchitti said after averaging 167.315 mph in his trip around the smallest oval in the IndyCar Series to win the pole for Saturday night’s race.

In his last visit to the track, in 2007, Franchitti led 242 of the 250 laps, including the last 179, and the victory helped him claim the series championship. He then left the open wheel racers for NASCAR, but his stay there was abbreviated and he’s back, and contending.

Franchitti will start the 300-lap SunTrust Indy Challenge tied for the series lead with two victories through seven races, and trailing points leader Ryan Briscoe by just 3 points.

Repeating his dominance of two years ago won’t be easy, though, and he knows it.

To win, he’ll need “Everything to go right,” he said. “We need to do about a thousand things right. You have to have a fast car, have the right strategy, make the right moves, be good in traffic. … It’s more compressed here because it’s such a short track.”


The 0.75-mile oval also gives the drivers only one place to pass — in the first turn — unless the racing gets two wide, but with just 20 cars in the field, that is unlikely.

Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, will start on the outside of the front row with a speed of 166.638. Dixon is third in points, just ahead of Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves. Castroneves qualified third with teammate Briscoe to his outside.

Dixon and Castroneves each also have two victories this season, although Castroneves said he scared himself by getting too close to the car’s limitations during his qualifying run.

“I stopped breathing for about 50 seconds,” he said, laughing. “The last two laps I didn’t breathe at all. It was one of those things — you find the limit on the car, and once you’re there, you can’t back off, man. You’ve just got to go and ride the car.”

Danica Patrick would have loved that problem. She is fifth in points and driving for the Andretti-Green Racing team that was Franchitti’s home two years ago, but will start 10th.

“I don’t think any of us are very happy,” Patrick said of herself and her three AGR teammates. Hideki Mutoh will start eighth, Marco Andretti 16th and Tony Kanaan 17th.


Kanaan, the defending race champion, was the second driver to make his run in the bright sunshine, and continued to struggle. He’s seventh in points and has finished 14th or worse in three of the last four events, including a 27th-place run in the top event, the Indy 500.

“Hope is the only thing I have right now so I was hoping that we definitely could change something, but so far it didn’t work out,” he said. “We still have the race to go tomorrow.”

Once that starts, he’ll have company in hoping for some mayhem up front.

“The thing about this race is everything happens,” said Dan Wheldon, who will start 13th. “I mean, you get a lot of chaos. You get fuel saving. It’s a busy race, there’s a lot going on and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a good car over the period of a fuel stint.”

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