Sunday, September 9, 2007
Franchitti offered high point to otherwise messy AGR day
By John Schwarb
Special to ESPN.com
JOLIET, Ill. -- Andretti Green Racing met its goal, leaving Chicagoland Speedway with the IndyCar Series championship. In fact, Dario Franchitti took all the trophies Sunday, winning the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 from the pole along with the season crown.
It wasn't a total team effort.
Tony Kanaan, who came into the final weekend with long shot title hopes if teammate Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon faltered early, instead found early trouble himself. The 2004 champion cut a right-rear tire and had to pit on Lap 18, giving up a lap to the leaders that he was never able to recover.
Not only did he lose a chance at winning the race, he couldn't run alongside Franchitti to provide any help in his battle with the Target cars of Dixon and Dan Wheldon, which ran in tandem for much of the race before running dry on fuel at the end.
"It didn't work out for me," Kanaan said. "I was disappointed because I couldn't help Dario, I knew I was out of the championship."
Marco Andretti finished last after a Lap 35 crash, spinning and making contact with the Turn 4 wall before settling in the infield.
Andretti reported neck pain and was taken to a local hospital, where a CAT scan was negative.
Andretti, in his second IndyCar Series season, ended the year outside the top 10 in points. His many season lowlights included struggles at most of the ovals, a flip at the end of the Indianapolis 500 and an incident with Franchitti late at Sonoma, Calif., which sent the NYSE car off the track and Franchitti out of the points lead (though he would regain it at Belle Isle).
Danica Patrick came into this week at her home-state track off a career-best second-place finish at Belle Isle. She qualified seventh and drove a clean race most of the day, working up to third at Lap 135 and staying there for several laps behind Franchitti and Dixon. But seven laps from the end she spun entering pit road for a final splash of fuel and finished 11th.
Patrick ended her first season with AGR seventh in points, her best finish in three years in the series.
Banner day for SSM in Indy Pro Series
Merely 1.65 inches separated Logan Gomez and Alex Lloyd at the finish line of the Chicagoland 100, but both Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers took home Indy Pro Series hardware.
Gomez, an 18-year-old rookie, picked up his first IPS win, leading the final 21 laps and holding off Lloyd by five ten-thousandths of a second in the closest finish in the six-year history of the series.
"I don't even think I could describe how quick that is," said Gomez, of nearby Crown Point, Ind. "It was a matter of who could straighten the wheel the quickest and who got the better run."
Lloyd didn't have the better run Sunday, but his entire season was one for the record books. The Englishman clinched the points title in the third-to-last race of the season after winning eight of the first 14 starts.
Only twice did he finish outside the top-three.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports has won three of the past four IPS driver championships. Lloyd hopes to run full-time in the IndyCar Series next year but does not yet have a ride finalized.
The Chicagoland 100 had one scary moment when 2005 series champion Wade Cunningham and Travis Gregg got together on Lap 44, with Cunningham's car overturning and skidding through Turn 3 on its roll hoop. Cunningham crawled out of the car uninjured.
The race had just three caution periods -- Andretti's wreck, Patrick's pit road spin and a crash by Vitor Meira on Lap 137. "I think it was something on the rear of the car that either broke or came undone but I really don't know," said the Panther Racing driver, who finished 18th.
First-time IndyCar starter Hideki Mutoh finished eighth in a third Panther car, ahead of regulars Meira and Kosuke Matsuura (17th). Mutoh made his first start after a rookie season in the IPS that included two wins.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished seventh for Rahal Letterman Racing, rebounding from three straight finishes of 15th or worse.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and is a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.