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Sunday, August 22, 2004
Franchitti gets second win; Rice has disaster

Associated Press

Dario Franchitti
Franchitti
FOUNTAIN, Colo. -- Although Dario Franchitti was criticized for making the jump to the IRL from the former CART series, his decision is starting to look like a good one.

But it wasn't that way a year ago, when a bad back that resulted in surgery kept him from proving it wasn't a bad move.

Now, with two wins this year -- including Sunday at Pikes Peak International Raceway -- perhaps Franchitti will stop hearing the questions.

Franchitti shook off the potentially dangerous pit mishap and used a caution midway through the race to make up ground. He wound up leading the final 63 laps of the IRL's Honda 225.

"The only people that matter, the people who really know what's going on -- my bosses, the guys on the team, the guys at Honda -- they knew the way I felt,'' said Franchitti, who had the surgery after last year's race at Pikes Peak. "Why would I do this if I didn't want to?

"I'm enjoying my racing, next year's schedule is going to be even better for me and I have great teammates. Things are pretty good right now.''

Franchitti, who held the lead four times for a total of 128 laps, went into the pits on lap 85 for four new tires and fuel. As he started to pull out of the pits, fuel man Mike Miller had trouble getting the hose disconnected from the car and was clipped by the rear tire.

Miller wound up with a twisted knee and Franchitti lost about 10 seconds, allowing three drivers to pass him. But what could have been the difference in the race turned out to be just a speed bump for Franchitti.

The Scottish driver took advantage of a yellow flag to clear debris on lap 120, caught up to the leaders and passed Sam Hornish Jr. 12 laps later. Adrian Fernandez stayed close for about 35 laps before Franchitti started pulling away after another caution.

Franchitti took the checkered flag 2.2429 seconds ahead of Fernandez. It was the 11th straight victory for Honda. Only Hornish, who won the season-opener in Homestead, Fla., in a Toyota, has kept Honda from being 12 for 12 this year.

The winner averaged 142.182 mph for the 225 laps. He picked up 53 points in the IndyCar series standings and moved into fifth place.

"I think I surprised a couple of guys,'' said Franchitti, who also won in Milwaukee on July 25. "Pikes Peak is a difficult track because you really start to lose grip as the run goes on with the heat during the day.''

Fernandez followed up his first career win -- a week earlier at Kentucky -- with another solid outing, holding off Dan Wheldon and Darren Manning over the final 20 laps for his seventh top-10 finish in his first season on the circuit.

"My car was good. It was responding and I was getting one guy at a time,'' Fernandez said. "Eventually, we just couldn't get Dario, he was running very strong at the time.

"I think if I could have gotten in front of him we could have won the race, but that was the trick. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic result.''

Series leader Tony Kanaan finished fifth, his 11th straight top-five finish, to extend his lead to 68 points over Buddy Rice. Kanaan earned the pole with the fastest practice time after qualifying was washed out by rain Saturday, but he didn't have the car to keep up with Franchitti.

"I drove a conservative race,'' said Kanaan, who has 463 points. "We made the car better and then we made the car worse. If we were to finish fifth every race, I think we would win the championship.''

The race's start was pushed up 15 minutes because thunderstorms were expected in the afternoon.

It didn't help Rice any.

His bid to close the gap on Kanaan took a hit in the second turn, when he bumped Tomas Scheckter, spun into the infield and made contact with the inside wall, severely damaging the right rear of his car.

With four races left in the season, Indy 500 champion Rice is running out of chances to stay in the race for the points title.

"I'm pretty disappointed, but the championship isn't over,'' Rice said. "But this doesn't help our situation. We'll just have to be as aggressive as possible in the last four races.''

Hornish had his car running well and led for 67 laps before running into trouble coming out of the final turn on lap 158.

Hornish, running third at the time, spun without contact coming out of the turn and slammed the rear of his car into the frontstretch wall. The car suffered severe damage and Hornish had to be helped off the track with a bruised right knee.

"I was trying to get back up on some guys and the car just got away from me,'' Hornish said. "I wasn't pushing it that hard. I don't know. It was a weird deal.''