First IRL victory thrills Franchitti

Updated: July 25, 2004, 9:33 PM ET
Associated Press

Dario Franchitti
WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- Dario Franchitti took advantage of the first and last caution flags for his first IRL victory.

Franchitti started in seventh and got great help from the first yellow flag on lap 39. He pitted and changed his tires, and that made all the difference for him Sunday in the inaugural Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225 at The Milwaukee Mile.

"It wasn't the best start I've ever made, but it was clean,'' he said. "When we put new tires on, the car really came to life at that point, and I started moving through the field.''

Then as the race was coming to a close, Franchitti held off Buddy Rice after a late restart. Rice finished second, followed by Sam Hornish Jr.

Franchitti was relieved and concerned when the final yellow flag came out with less than 15 laps to go after Jaques Lazier hit the wall in the second turn. He had Rice behind him, but also was struggling to pass Alex Barron, who was at the end of the lead lap.

"I was relieved in a way because it got (Barron) back out around, out of my way,'' Franchitti said. "On the flip side of that, I was a bit concerned about the restart with Buddy. ... As it turned out the restart was fine and it wasn't an issue.''

Rice wasn't pleased to see the yellow flag.

"I was hoping that the laps would stay green until the end, because I was closing on him,'' Rice said. "But with a few laps to go, I never really had a chance for a run.''

Hornish would have rather ran green until the end, although he admitted he didn't know if he could have beaten Franchitti.

"We're not sure if we would have made it to the end, but it would have been exciting,'' he said.

Franchitti's win was his first in the IRL after missing almost all of last season with a back injury. The Scot competed in just three races, two before he injured his back in a motorcycle crash and one before undergoing surgery.

His best IRL finish had been second on June 12 at the Texas Motor Speedway.

"We've come pretty close this year,'' he said. "It was nice to get it all done.''

Franchitti took his first lead on the 106th lap after passing Helio Castroneves. He managed to stay in front until more than halfway through the race, when the leaders again pitted during a caution, and Hornish beat him out of pit road.

Hornish held the lead during the restart, but it was waived off and he was forced to fend off Franchitti again. Franchitti took advantage, passing Hornish in turn one and never trailing again. Hornish then was passed by Rice with less than 25 laps to go.

"On the second start, he just kept coming down, trying to squeeze me,'' Franchitti said. "I was able to accelerate hard on the inside, get past him and get a nice lead.''

Pole sitter Vitor Meira was passed on the first lap by IndyCar series points leader Tony Kanaan and ended in fifth place. Scott Dixon didn't race after crashing during qualifying Saturday and injuring his left ankle and right thumb.

With his second place finish, Rice jumped to second in the points standings and is 64 points behind Kanaan, who finished fourth. Franchitti jumped from ninth to sixth in the points standings.

"It's looking good in the points right now,'' Rice said. "We're doing exactly what we need to do, marching forward.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press