Franchitti wins again

A year ago, Dario Franchitti's adventure at Pikes Peak International Raceway led to back surgery that ended his season. This time, it led directly to the podium

Franchitti wins again

Franchitti, who went from a fourth-place finish last year at PPIR to surgery that ended his season, won the Honda Indy 255 on Sunday in commanding style. It was his second victory on a one-mile oval in four weeks - Franchitti also won July 25 at the Milwaukee Mile.

"It was a difficult year," Franchitti said. "There was a lot that happened. This team never gave up on me, and these guys never gave up on me. This was payback for them."

This time, Franchitti regained the lead from Sam Hornish Jr on the 133rd lap of the 225-lap race and did not relinquish it. Franchitti's No. 27 Andretti Green Racing Honda-powered Dallara beat Adrian Fernandez's No. 5 Fernandez Racing Honda/Panoz G Force to the finish line by 2.2429 seconds.

AGR team-mate Dan Wheldon finished third, completing a 1-2-3 sweep for Honda. Darren Manning, at fourth, matched his best finish of the season and Toyota's best of the race. IRL IndyCar Series points leader Tony Kanaan finished fifth, and, benefited by a first-lap crash by Buddy Rice, expanded his lead from 50 to 68 points with four races remaining in the 2004 season.

"I drove a conservative race all day," said Kanaan, who has finished among the top five in 11 consecutive races. "We chased the car all day. We made the car better, and then we made the car worse. If we're able to finish fifth in every race, I think we could win the championship. We just need to capitalize on all opportunities and stay focused."

Franchitti led early in the race before being overtaken by Sam Hornish Jr. on the 60th lap. Franchitti fell further behind on a bad pitstop, when he moved forward while fuel and vent hoses were still attached to his car. His vent/jack man, Mike Miller, was taken to the infield medical centre, then to Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs for treatment of injuries to ligaments in his right knee.

"I feel really bad about it," Franchitti said. "I'm giving him a lift back to Indianapolis. I took off too quick, and his foot got caught under the rear tyre."

Hornish also was treated later in the race after his car broke away and hit the wall in turn four on the 157th lap. At the time, Hornish was third behind Franchitti and Tomas Scheckter. Hornish was released after complaining of a bruised right knee. He was released and cleared to drive.

"I was just trying to get back up on some guys and it got away from me," Hornish said. "I wasn't pushing it that hard. I don't know. It was a weird deal."

Scheckter also fell out of contention with a broken halfshaft, continuing a season of frustration for Pennzoil Panther Racing. It was the seventh time this season that the No. 4 Chevrolet/Dallara was parked because of a mechanical problem or accident. Last week at Kentucky Speedway, the clutch went out, leading to a fuel spill in the pits and ending Scheckter's race after he had led nine laps.

"To have it end like that is like falling off a cliff," Scheckter said. "Talk about a great heartbreak. We were cooking all day. To have it end like that is a huge disappointment for all of us."

Fernandez continued his hot streak with the runner-up finish one week after his first IndyCar Series win at Kentucky. This time, Fernandez stayed within a second of Franchitti for the first 25 laps of racing after the final caution period of the race. During the final 23laps, though, Franchitti opened a lead as large as 4.9 seconds.

"It was a fantastic day, especially following last week's result," Fernandez said. "It was one of the most challenging races of the year, at least for me. The track was changing constantly throughout the race. If we could have gotten in front of Dario, we could have won the race, but that was the trick."

Wheldon moved closer to Kanaan in points, but remained third, 82 points behind. Castroneves, who finished sixth, is fourth in points, while Franchitti moved past Hornish into fifth.

Following Franchitti, Fernandez, Wheldon, Manning, Kanaan and Castroneves to the line were Vitor Meira and Jaques Lazier, who recorded his best finish in five races with Patrick Racing and Chevy's best finish of the race (eighth). Bryan Herta gave AGR four cars in the top nine, and Alex Barron rounded out the top 10.

In the end, though, Franchitti was proving his mastery of short tracks and giving AGR its fourth win in five races on mile tracks since joining the IRL last season.

"These low-grip situations really suit my driving style," Franchitti said. "My engineers did a great job to give me a good car here, and I got into a good rhythm."

The IRL IndyCar Series season resumes next weekend at Nazareth Speedway.

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