Helio Castroneves wins Indy Japan 300
MOTEGI, Japan -- Pole-sitter Helio Castroneves won the Indy Japan 300 on Sunday and Dario Franchitti finished second to set up a two-man race for the IndyCar title going into the final event of the season.
Franchitti, the defending series champion, closed within 12 points of overall leader Will Power of Australia, who placed third.
Besides ensuring that the championship will come down to the Oct. 2 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Franchitti also clinched the inaugural A.J. Foyt Oval Championship Trophy for earning the most points in the IndyCar series' oval races.
The Scot was in a similar position last year when he went into the final race of the season trailing Scott Dixon by five points and won at Homestead to secure the championship.
Franchitti beat Power to the finish line by 0.4997 of a second, adding to the runner-up finishes he had on Motegi's 1.5-mile circuit in 2000 and 2009.
"Helio was just in a class of his own in terms of sheer speed," Franchitti said. "We can only control what we do and we did our best."
Castroneves gained the lead from Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe on a lap-118 pit stop and held on through the end of the 200-lap race to earn his third win this season.
"It's always a tough race here," said Castroneves, who won at Motegi in 2006. "I trusted my car and trusted my team which did a great job in the pit stops."
Power, who dropped as far as ninth during Sunday's race, was pleased to recover but was disappointed he didn't finish ahead of Franchitti after starting third on the grid.
"The team did a great job to get me back up to third," said Power, who leads the series with 587 points. "I've never finished ahead of Dario on an oval. I'm getting closer and I really want to finish ahead of him next time."
Castroneves led for 153 laps to clinch two bonus points for most laps led. The Brazilian is third in the overall standings with 501 points, but has been eliminated from the title chase along with New Zealand's Scott Dixon, who finished sixth.
Briscoe, who started on the front row with Castroneves, was fourth. Danica Patrick, who won here in 2008 to became the first female winner in IndyCar history, was fifth.
Former Formula One driver Takuma Sato finished 12th for the best finish among three Japanese drivers.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press