- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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LEXINGTON, Ohio -- The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was a fairly uneventful race, but it at least injected a glimmer of excitement into the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's No. 10 crew got Dario Franchitti ahead of championship leader Will Power of Team Penske during the first yellow-flag round of pits stops, and Franchitti was able to maintain the position through the final two-thirds of the 85-lap race. The Scotsman crossed the line 0.533 seconds ahead of Power to claim the 25th victory of his 14-year American career, split between CART and Indy Racing League sanctions.
The consolation for the pole winner Power was clinching the inaugural Mario Andretti Trophy, awarded the top road racer in the IndyCar Series. Power locked up that honor with one road race remaining on Aug. 22 in Sonoma, Calif.
"That's just fantastic," Power said. "Mario Andretti is one of the best racers of all time.
"But we're going for that world championship and we couldn't get Dario today. I gave it everything I've got. Still a strong day, but that's the guy we've got to beat."
Franchitti capped a remarkably successful day for team owner Chip Ganassi, who already saw his cars take victory in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series (with drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (Juan Pablo Montoya) at Watkins Glen International in the past 24 hours.
"That was a big weekend, probably the biggest weekend our team has ever had," Ganassi said. "Pretty special.
"[Franchitti] was bulletproof on the track and the guys did a great job in the pits and got him out in the lead. That might have been the race right there."
Indeed, the complexion of the Mid-Ohio race turned on the 25th lap during a hectic blitz of yellow-flag stops that saw top contenders Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay delayed by contact in the short, narrow, pit lane.
Power had led from the start, but the Ganassi crew was a tick quicker in the pits and Franchitti out-accelerated Power to the pit exit. Although Alex Tagliani ran an alternate pit-stop sequence to lead the next 30 laps on the way to an eventual fourth-place finish, Franchitti was ahead of his rival Power and managed to stay there to the finish despite heavy pressure from Power all the way to the checkered flag.
"A yellow-flag stop in this tight pit lane was my worst nightmare but the Target boys were flawless and we actually made a place up," Franchitti said. "I don't know how the hell they did it, but we got ahead of Will. After that, I was just pushing as hard as I could.
"Finally I won a race at Mid-Ohio it's been a long time coming."
It wasn't an especially clean race, with silly mistakes from backmarkers causing several full-course cautions. But Franchitti was perfect on every restart and the Ganassi team turned in a flawless green-flag pit stop in the closing stages.
Power aggressively pressured Franchitti over the final 10 laps, but he never had a realistic chance of passing the leader on the twisty and narrow road course.
"Definitely I think the Verizon car had the speed," Power said. "He got us in the pits there and I just couldn't get him back. We just couldn't get by. It's so hard to pass around here. I was just trying to make him make a mistake. I wasn't going to make it easy for him.
Chip got a hat trick today -- three wins this weekend, that's awesome. I just didn't want to screw it up.
”-- Dario Franchitti
"It's a good result, but Dario is the guy chasing us right now and we need to finish ahead of him."
Franchitti cut Power's overall IndyCar Series championship lead from 54 to 41 points with five races remaining. Franchitti is the defending champion at Infineon Raceway, where in 2009 he led from start to finish.
He then has four events on 1.5-mile ovals -- generally Power's worst form of track -- to erase the Australian's advantage and claim his second consecutive (and third overall) IndyCar Series title.
"We didn't get most laps led, but we made up some points today," Franchitti said. "We've been finishing on the podium, but mostly finishing behind [Power] lately. That got a bit old so it was nice to actually make some points up.
"It's not over yet and we'll just keep fighting. Each race you've just got to push 100 percent."
Franchitti downplayed the significance of his 25th Indy car victory, his 15th under Indy Racing League sanction.
"I'd forgot that was number 25 today," he said. "I'm lucky I've been driving for great teams in great equipment. But they're all the same to me. I don't distinguish between one and the other. I'm quite surprised we got to 25 and I'm really proud of that."
Of far greater importance to the 37-year-old Scotsman was wrapping up what is already being called the "Ganassi Triple."
"On one of the restarts they came on and said, 'News flash: Montoya just won at Watkins Glen. Oh by the way, it's going green this lap,' "
Franchitti said with a broad smile. "I said, 'Oh my God OK, the pressure's on now!'
"Chip got a hat trick today -- three wins this weekend, that's awesome. I just didn't want to screw it up."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.
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