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Sunday, September 18, 2011
Dixon wins; Power pulls ahead

By John Oreovicz
ESPN.com

MOTEGI, Japan -- Over the past 13 years, we've come to expect the unexpected when Indy cars race in Japan.

Scott Dixon's dominant victory Sunday at the Twin Ring Motegi road course in a race billed as Indy Japan? The Final was not a surprise. But seeing his Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti make what Franchitti admitted was "not even a rookie mistake, just a stupid mistake" was certainly atypical.

Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon came out on top at Motegi.

Franchitti arrived in Japan with a slim five-point lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings over Will Power. They left with their positions reversed, thanks to Power's dogged second-place finish at Motegi, and Franchitti's messy run to eighth place.

Power now holds an 11-point advantage over Franchitti with two more races to be staged at Kentucky Speedway (Oct. 2) and Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16).

While Dixon had a dream weekend, scoring the maximum 53 points by claiming pole position and leading 62 of 63 laps, Franchitti's troubles started in qualifying when he was only able to manage ninth place on the grid.

A good start and some nifty passes put Franchitti up to fifth place prior to the first round of pit stops. But it all went wrong for the Scotsman on a Lap 26 restart when he nudged Ryan Briscoe's Team Penske car into a spin. Making matters worse, Franchitti's Ganassi teammates Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball were also swept into the incident.

Franchitti resumed at the back of the pack, and he produced an impressive comeback drive in which he seemed to pass a car every lap on a track where overtaking was expected to be very difficult.

But the damage was done and the championship lead he had held since June was lost.

"I screwed that one up," Franchitti said. "That was a stupid move on my part because maybe it was a gap, but it closed quickly and Ryan's job right now is to make sure that I'm behind him. He had nothing to lose and ultimately I put myself in that position. I ruined his race, I ruined Graham's race, I ruined Charlie's race … I made a stupid move and I hold my hand up to admit it. Not even a rookie mistake, just a stupid mistake.

"We had a good climb back through the field -- that was the positive," he added. "We're going to Kentucky and Vegas and we'll see what we can do."

With Franchitti in trouble, Power could afford to be conservative. But a final caution period gave him one last chance to go for the win on a restart with just two laps remaining.

Power was more aggressive than expected on the restart, but Dixon pulled away to win by 3.4 seconds.

"Will didn't hold back, for sure," chuckled Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "He drove it as hard as he could without causing a mess. I told him to be smart -- we didn't need that."

Dixon also won at Motegi on the 1.549-mile oval in 2009. He is now within 59 points of championship leader Power.

"The team did a fantastic job and to be the only person that's won on both tracks here is very special," Dixon said. "I had a close call with Will at the end -- that last restart was a bit touch and go . But ultimately the car was just fantastic all day and the pit crew, strategy and everything else was flawless. We had no mistakes today and to win races at this level, that's what you need to do."

Will Power We had the mindset going into the weekend where we weren't really thinking about points. We were just thinking about doing a good job. The things you can't control, it's not worth even worrying about.

-- Will Power

But the big winner on the day was Power, who was 62 points behind Franchitti following the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 7.

Power held a similar lead over Franchitti last year but squandered it over the course of the final four races, all on oval tracks. Since then, Power scored his first oval track victory (in June at Texas Motor Speedway) and has generally raised his oval racing game this year.

Although he was beaten in Japan by Dixon, Power was still pleased with the result.

"We had the mindset going into the weekend where we weren't really thinking about points," Power said. "We were just thinking about doing a good job. The things you can't control, it's not worth even worrying about.

"We were just really making sure we executed on the things we could control and we had a very good points day."

For his part, Franchitti vowed to fight back in the final two races of the season as he attempts to secure his third consecutive (and fourth overall) IndyCar Series crown.

"Dixie was awesome at Mid-Ohio and he was awesome here," Franchitti said. "I need to figure out what he's doing so I can start doing it myself. We're going testing at Kentucky on Thursday so we better figure it out.

"We'll be giving it our best."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.