California win tugs on Franchitti's emotions


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.

Sunday, Franchitti edged Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony
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 ESPN.com.