Commentary

Dario Franchitti is the JJ of IndyCar

Updated: October 12, 2011, 2:47 PM ET
By Chris Lees | ESPN.com

With the motorsports world focusing on Jimmie Johnson's quest for a sixth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title, a Scottish-born driver of Italian heritage has been creating his own dynasty. He is Dario Franchitti, who is one race away from claiming his fourth IZOD IndyCar Series championship (third in as many years). If Franchitti hadn't taken a year off in 2008 to compete in NASCAR, he could have been seeking five straight titles.

[+] EnlargePower/Franchitti
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesWith six victories already in the bag, Will Power, left, would win a tiebreaker with Dario Franchitti.

The man known as "Super Dario" has proved time and again that he performs at his best when it counts the most:

• Sept. 9, 2007, Chicagoland Speedway

Holding a three-point lead, Franchitti was trying to put to rest the disappointment of 1999, when he held a nine-point lead heading into the CART finale at Fontana. In that race, Juan Pablo Montoya outscored Dario by nine points and won the title on a tiebreaker.

In 2007 at Chicagoland, the title chase came down to the final lap. Scott Dixon was leading, but he ran out of fuel in Turn 3. Franchitti took full advantage by taking the race and the title. Soon after, Franchitti would leave Andretti Green Racing to join Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team.

• Oct. 10, 2009, Homestead-Miami Speedway

Franchitti entered the season finale trailing teammate Dixon by just six points. Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe made it a three-driver battle as he trailed by nine. The race would prove to be a microcosm of the season, with the trio of drivers leading 198 of the race's 200 laps.

Then something unique took place. The race failed to produce a caution (the first caution-free race in series history). Franchitti and crew decided to use fuel strategy by pitting on Lap 150 (Briscoe and Dixon pitted six laps earlier). As the race continued to run under green, it became apparent that Briscoe and Dixon, who had pulled ahead of Franchitti by 23 seconds, were going to have to pit again before the checkered flag. Franchitti was able to stretch his fuel for the improbable victory and win his second title.

• Fall 2010, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Motegi, Homestead

Four races remained in the season and Team Penske's Will Power led by 59 points. It appeared all but over. No one told that to Dario Franchitti. He began his surge at Chicago, taking the lead from Power with 28 laps to go and never looking back. In one race, Franchitti cut Power's lead to 23 points.

Franchitti scored top-5 finishes at Kentucky and Motegi to bring the deficit down to 12 points entering the season finale. After winning the pole, Franchitti paced the field. He led the first 42 laps, and on Lap 118 he wrapped up the two-point bonus for most laps led. The championship became a reality when Power brushed the Turn 4 wall on Lap 135 while running fourth, causing damage to the right-rear wishbone. Power eventually bowed out of the race. Franchitti finished eighth and claimed back-to-back titles by a mere five points.

• The 2011 championship trail
Franchitti finds himself in another championship battle with Power. It appeared Power had turned the tables, as he overcame a 62-point deficit to take the championship lead from Franchitti at Twin Ring Motegi, two races ago. However, Power ran into pit-road trouble at Kentucky, allowing Franchitti to reclaim the advantage. Franchitti, who leads Power by 18 points, can guarantee a fourth title with a top-two finish Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Franchitti has edge on ovals

Neither Franchitti nor Power has raced on the 1.5-mile track at Vegas. Franchitti, however, does have a significant advantage on ovals. In 126 oval starts, the Scotsman has won 15 times, with 52 top-5 finishes. Two of his four wins in 2011 came at Texas and Milwaukee. As for Power, he has only one oval victory, which came in the other half of the doubleheader at Texas.

In case of a tie ...

If Franchitti and Power finish with the same number of points, the first tiebreaker is most wins. Power has clinched that with six victories. Dating back to 1909, there have been only two seasons in which the Indy car champion has been determined on a tiebreaker. In 1999, Montoya and Franchitti each finished the CART season with 212 points. Montoya had seven wins to Franchitti's three and was awarded the championship. Seven years later, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dan Wheldon each finished the IndyCar Series season with 475 points. Hornish had the advantage in wins, four to two.

Chris Lees is a Senior Researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has been covering motorsports since 2003, working on such shows as "RPM2Night" and "NASCAR Now." You can contact Chris at christopher.g.lees@espn.com