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Franchitti's hot streak continues with win in Richmond

7/1/2007

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dario Franchitti learned very early
Saturday night that some bold changes made to his car had paid off.
At the end, he was almost teasing his challengers, coasting around
and saving fuel as they slowly closed in.


Turns out, they never really had a chance.


Franchitti led all but eight laps to set a record for dominance
in the IndyCar Series and got help from a late, fuel-saving caution
to pull away one last time and give the series points leader his
first victory at Richmond International Raceway.


At the start of the SunTrust Indy Challenge, "we didn't know
what we had, basically," Franchitti said, because his team had
made adjustments on his car after it was slow in practice. "We
took off at the start and I was pretty pleased with that."


It was just the beginning.


After losing the lead on a caution, he quickly regained it from
Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan on the restart and
dominated, leading 242 of 250 laps.


The restart jump told him all he needed to know.


"That's when I really knew the car was exceptional," he said.


Franchitti, whose position in the standings got him the top
starting spot when Friday night's qualifying was rained out, won
his second race in a row and posted his eighth consecutive top-five
finish. He was followed across the finish line by Target Chip
Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, and then
Kanaan.


It helped Franchitti that Sam Hornish Jr. created a buffer of
sorts between him and his closest challengers in the final 80 laps.
Hornish had fallen back early in the race and spent the night with
a fast car, desperate to recover to the chagrin of Dixon.


"We probably would have had a shot at [Franchitti] if it wasn't
for Sam sort of trying to get a lap back when he was three laps
down," Dixon said of Hornish, whose speed at the end made him an
imposing obstacle to any efforts to catch Franchitti.


"That was the time we needed to get him," Dixon said.


Franchitti said it didn't matter much.


"I haven't thanked him yet," he said of Hornish. "If Scott
wants to look at the video, he'll see that Sam gave me a pretty
hard time the stint before that, and also toward the end of the
race. I don't think Sam was in any way trying to help me out."
Besides, he added, "even when Scott did clear Sam, I don't think
he was quick enough."


After building a big lead on the restart with 80 laps to go, he
said, he was lifting off the throttle on the straightaways with an
eye on his shrinking lead.


Once his team said his fuel would last, he pulled away with ease
again.


It was the third victory of the season for Franchitti, who set a
series record for leading the most laps. He also padded his points
lead after the ninth of 17 races.


Dixon is now second in points, 65 behind. Wheldon and Kanaan are
72 back.


The performance of the Target tandem was a positive, Wheldon
said, but that had to be tempered by Franchitti's stretching his
points advantage.


"At the end of the day, that was the wrong person to win," he
said.


Hornish, the defending series champion, is fifth in points. He
had a tough night, spinning out just after crossing the start
finish line at the start of the race.


He wound up 15th.


"It's not over yet," he said of the championship chase.


Franchitti agreed, saying its way too early to start getting
conservative.


"I've just got to continue getting the maximum week in and week
out," he said.