Pressure Again On Franchitti

Would Dario Franchitti be able to come back from back-to-back flips to keep his IndyCar Series title hopes on track?

The answer was a resounding “yes” at Infineon Raceway, where the popular Scot won the pole and dominated the event.

Now, with only two races remaining in the IndyCar Series season, the big question is: Will Franchitti be able to rebound from a late-race tangle with Andretti Green Racing teammate Marco Andretti and regain the lead in the championship?

Franchitti held a solid 65-point margin following his third victory of the season at Richmond International Raceway in June. While Scott Dixon whittled down some of that margin with three straight victories, Franchitti minimized the damage by scoring two seconds and a third.

Dixon got caught in the accident triggered by Franchitti’s flip at Michigan International Speedway, and then cut the lead to eight points when Franchitti placed eighth at Kentucky Speedway. That’s the race when Franchitti flipped again after running into Kosuke Matsuura following the checkered flag.

If that shook Franchitti’s confidencen, it never showed at Sonoma. He won the pole and dominated the opening 64 laps of the 80-lap event. If anything, Dixon struggled throughout the weekend to keep up.

Then, on the final round of pit stops, the complexion of the race — and the season — suddenly changed.

Mistake number one was that Franchitti short-pitted and his crew took a little extra time making sure that they got every drop of fuel in the tank for the final run in what had been an all-green flag affair.

Dixon then had a quicker stop, and pulled back on track directly in front of Franchitti. The Scot tucked in behind in Turn 1, and then shot by to regain the lead.

The unsung driver in this battle was Marco Andretti. The defending Sonoma winner, Andretti was looking to reverse a miserable sophomore season after a brilliant rookie campaign. Andretti cycled up to second behind Dixon, and was gaining on the Target car when the New Zealander made his final stop.

That gave the lead to Andretti. He had a super final stop, and came back on track in front of Franchitti. Instead of waiting for one corner — like he did for Dixon — Franchitti attempted to pass for the lead in Turn 1. He clipped Andretti, sending him spinning off track. Franchitti took over the lead, but his left-front wing was damaged, and he was easy pickings for Dixon following the restart after the ensuing caution. Dixon not only won, he took a four-point lead in the championship.

Should Andretti have lifted and let his teammate by?

If racing was truly a team sport, Andretti should have let Franchitti by. Possibly, that’s what Franchitti expected. However, it’s every man for himself. Hungry for his first victory of 2007 and a repeat at Infineon, Andretti probably figured a second wouldn’t hurt his teammate’s championship hopes.

Now, it’s up to Franchitti to put all that behind him for this weekend’s Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle and the season finale the following weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Going against Scott Dixon, it isn’t going to be easy.

Just let’s hope that “team tactics” won’t decide the championship.

Speaking of team tactics, what about Tony Kanaan’s shameless blocking for Franchitti over the final four laps of Sunday’s race? If Kanaan went by for third, he would have had plenty of company following him past Franchitti’s damaged car. Thanks to his teammate, Franchitti minimized his point loss with a third-place finish.

Would Danica Patrick have moved over for Franchitti if she was in the same position as Marco? No way. She’s even hungrier than Andretti to win a race this year.

Will Helio Castroneves be able to find a partner when he goes Dancing with the Stars? He’s had a few run-ins with life-long buddy Kanaan this year, in addition to bumps with both Franchitti and Dixon on Sunday. But watch out at Belle Isle. While Castroneves has won only one race this season, you can bet “The Captain” Roger Penske will have a rocket for the popular Brazilian this weekend.

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