California win tugs on Franchitti's emotions

Originally Published: October 16, 2005
By John Oreovicz | Special to

FONTANA, Calif. -- It didn't right a wrong, but Dario Franchitti was able to walk away from California Speedway with a smile on his face and a victory in his pocket.

The 32-year-old Scotsman suffered one of the most painful memories of his racing career at this track in 1999, losing the CART Champ Car championship to Juan Pablo Montoya on the same day that his best friend, Canadian Greg Moore, was killed in a savage turn 2 accident.

On Sunday, Franchitti edged Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan after what had been a mundane race by IndyCar Series standards came alive in the final 10 laps.

Kanaan appeared to pull ahead of Franchitti's draft into the lead exiting turn 4 on the final lap. But he audibly lifted from the throttle, allowing Franchitti to claim the laurels.

"Tony hasn't told me much, but it definitely looked like he lifted," Franchitti said. "I'll ply him with alcohol tomorrow night and try to get the answer."

Kanaan claimed his Honda engine faltered when he used his push-to-pass function at the crucial moment. When pressed, he denied he handed Franchitti the victory.

"It's my word against yours," Kanaan said.

Franchitti broke down in tears in a postrace interview when asked about winning at the track where Moore was killed. A few minutes earlier, he turned a series of smoky donuts at the site of Moore's fatal accident.

"I saw Tony's car coming up pretty quickly," Franchitti said. "There weren't any team orders, though I wish there were! But we talked about helping each other.

"It's kind of sweet winning here," he added. "I lost a good friend here six years ago."

Despite the victory, Franchitti came up short by 14 points in his bid to overtake Sam Hornish Jr. for third in the championship standings. Hornish turned in the drive of the day, coming back from a lap down after incurring a pit lane speed violation to finish fifth.

No Hollywood ending
Danica Patrick's rookie IndyCar season came to a jarring conclusion when she crashed heavily with Jaques Lazier with less than 20 laps remaining while disputing seventh place. Lazier was a tough man to pass all day long, though replays seemed to indicate that Patrick was at fault in this particular incident.

Naturally, opinions differed. "It doesn't look like I'm moving up there," said Lazier, while watching a replay of the crash. "It happened once before where she pushed me down to the white line and didn't want to give me any room."

Countered Patrick, who suffered a sore elbow: "I was on my radio all day about him. He was all over the track even when he was running by himself. No wonder he jumps around from team to team. Needless to say, I'm pretty frustrated."

Running a pink paint scheme in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness didn't change Target/Ganassi Racing's luck because Lazier's crash was unofficially the 28th of the season for the team. Steve Chassey, an insurance executive who raced Indy cars in the 1970s and '80s, estimated Ganassi's crash damage tab for the season is higher than for the entire Champ Car World Series field.

Coming and going
Cheever Racing confirmed Sunday that Red Bull Energy Drink is withdrawing its sponsorship of the team after four years that produced only two victories.

"I would like to sincerely thank Red Bull and in particular Dietrich Mateschitz for the partnership we have developed over the past four years," team principal Eddie Cheever said. "We wish them all the success in their future endeavors and, who knows, perhaps it will make business sense and our paths will cross again in the future."

Steve Peagram, Red Bull's U.S. Sports Marketing manager, said the Austrian company's future American motorsports sponsorship plans are undecided. Red Bull will maintain personal services contracts with IndyCar Series pilot Buddy Rice and Champ Car's A.J. Allmendinger.

"It came down to performance," Peagram said.

Meanwhile, Andretti Green Racing confirmed that 7-11 Inc. has extended its sponsorship of Kanaan's entry. Kanaan is contracted to AGR through 2008.

Wheldon as P.M.S
Dan Wheldon has undeniably taken over from Sam Hornish Jr. as the premier open-wheel oval racer of the moment. But in the process, he has lived up to the Petulant Male Sportsman (P.M.S.) award bestowed upon him at midseason.

On Thursday, Wheldon refused accommodations at a Marriott Hotel arranged by Honda when he came to greater Los Angeles for an official function at Honda's corporate headquarters in Torrance, causing a logistical nightmare. The nine other Honda drivers had no problems with the facilities at the Marriott. Wheldon was also the only Honda driver to turn up late for a scheduled photo shoot.

On Saturday, he stormed out of a joint television interview with Danica Patrick when Patrick asked pointed questions about Wheldon's love life. The Indianapolis Star has reported that Wheldon is dating Nicole Manske, a pit reporter for the IndyCar Series radio network who also serves as a sports anchor for WISH-TV, the Indianapolis CBS affiliate.

Last laps
Champ Car driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has been replaced at Rocketsports Racing for the last two races of the season by rookie Michael McDowell, made an appearance in the IndyCar paddock on Sunday. … Tomas Scheckter led 80 laps Sunday in Chevrolet's final IndyCar Series race, but finished seventh. … A.J. Foyt IV crashed heavily for an ignominious end to his IndyCar career. Foyt plans to drive in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2006.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and