Franchitti wins IRl race at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio — Dario Franchitti was preparing for a restart during Sunday’s IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio when a Target Chip Ganassi crew member came over the radio with a little breaking news about friend Juan Pablo Montoya, who drives for Ganassi’s NASCAR team.

“They said something like ‘News flash, Montoya just won at (Watkins Glen) so it’s up to you now,”’ Franchitti said. “I thought ‘Oh God, no pressure now.”’

None indeed.

Franchitti used a pair of sparkling pit stops to overtake series road warrior Will Power and capture his 25th-career open-wheel victory, tying him with Gordon Johncock for 12th all-time.

It’s a heady milestone, though the two-time Indy 500 winner admits he was just trying to keep his boss happy. Sunday marked the second time in three weeks Ganassi cars have won both an IndyCar and NASCAR race on the same day.

“He just works so bloody hard at it, it’s nice to see him get this kind of success,” Franchitti said.

And it was nice for Franchitti to take a chunk out of Power’s sizable points lead. Franchitti is now within 41 points of Power with five races to go as he tries to repeat as series champion.

“We’ve got to put pressure on Will,” Franchitti said. “The last (three races) we finished on the podium every time, but Will was always a place ahead. That wasn’t in our plan. That wasn’t helping us win a championship.”

Helio Castroneves was third, followed by Alex Tagliani and Scott Dixon.

Two weeks after Castroneves was penalized for blocking Power on a late restart at Edmonton — an infraction that launched the affable Brazilian into a post-race tirade that ended up costing him $60,000 — there was no such drama at the twisting 2.258-mile circuit tucked in the Ohio countryside.

The race featured zero passes for the lead under green and no penalties for blocking, leaving what little intrigue there was to pit road.

Power, who started from the pole for a record-tying seventh time this season, led Franchitti into the pits on lap 25 when the race finally began.

Franchitti went through a quick mental checklist while crew members worked on his No. 10 Honda, trying to find an advantage. When his car hit the ground, he swung to the left, giving him momentum to then peel out and beat Power in a mini-drag race out of the pits by inches.

“For whatever reason I had better traction and was able to pass him by,” Franchitti said. “It’s funny, these races sometimes come down to those small moments.”

Franchitti’s team did it again when he and Power pitted together with 24 laps to go. The two dueled over the final laps but Power couldn’t muster enough horsepower to chase Franchitti down.

Not that he didn’t give it a shot. Power, who clinched IndyCar’s first road course championship this weekend, did his best to make his No. 12 Team Penske Honda as big as possible in Franchitti’s rearview mirror.

“I was trying really hard at the end to make him make a mistake, letting him see me in his mirrors, letting him know if he made one little slip-up, I’m going to get him,” Power said. “That was the only way I was going to get by.”

Not this time. Franchitti just shrugged his shoulders when asked if he thought Power could find enough room to sneak by.

“The gap was quite comfortable,” he said.

The triumph capped another stellar weekend for Ganassi, whose team is battling Penske for IndyCar supremacy.

“We’ve got a lot of wins to go yet,” he said. “I don’t keep score. That’s what we’re here for. We’ve only just begun.”

Franchitti was also able to exorcise some demons with the victory. He won the pole here 12 years ago but had never come through when it mattered. He had a healthy lead in 1999 before a flat tire cost him the race. Three years ago he appeared to be in position to beat Dixon before getting caught up in traffic on the final lap.

Though the 37-year-old Scotsman doesn’t believe a track ever “owes you one,” he wasn’t complaining when things turned his way on Sunday.

“It’s nice when it finally all comes together and you have days like today,” he said.

Tagliani hoped to throw a kink into Franchitti’s plan thanks to an aggressive pit sequence. He pitted early in the first cycle and benefited from a nicely timed caution that allowed him to take the lead. He held onto it for 30 laps but couldn’t get another caution to bail him out. Tagliani managed to hold on for fourth, the best performance of his career.

In the end, it was Franchitti against Power, a show that’s starting to feel like a repeat as they separate themselves from the rest of the field.

There’s just one road race left on the schedule at Sonoma in two weeks, the same track where Power suffered a horrific wreck last year that left him with four broken bones in his back.

The final four races are on ovals, tracks where Franchitti would appear to have an advantage.

“If we can get it all together and we can start winning races, it’s going to make our job a lot easier,” Franchitti said.

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