By Jeff Olson
Dario Franchitti emerged from the final cycle of pits stops ahead of Ryan Briscoe with 50 laps remaining, then pulled away with a skillful, timely run through traffic to win the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway.
The victory, Franchitti’s second in his two races at Iowa’s 7/8th-mile oval, put him within three points of Briscoe in the IndyCar Series standings. It was Franchitti’s second win of the season and first since winning on the streets of Long Beach in April.
The credit for this one went to the mechanics in the Ganassi pits.
“The guys today were phenomenal,” Franchitti said. “They made three places on one stop under yellow. To gain that kind of advantage against the competition we have in that pit lane is amazing. After the last stop, the car was fantastic, and I was able to pull away and have a good gap on Ryan. He was catching me a little bit, but I was able to get through traffic really well and then go.”
Briscoe was leading when he pitted with 55 laps remaining, surrendering the lead to Franchitti, who still had to pit. When Franchitti did finally take the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara-Honda into the pits four laps later, he emerged behind the only driver still on the lead lap, Danica Patrick, and she was about to make her final stop.
When she pitted two laps later, Franchitti was back in the lead, 1.1 seconds ahead of Briscoe.
“You've got to have a good car under all conditions, and that's where the Target guys did a good job with the setup,” Franchitti said. “It was good in all conditions, and we definitely seemed to have an advantage on cold tires. Ryan was hanging on pretty tightly, it looked like, on those restarts. The car was at its best on lap 250. Timing is everything.”
Briscoe said he felt like he wasn’t fast enough on pit-in during the final stop, and didn’t have time to practice his entry laps.
“I felt like I left a little on the table coming in on the backstretch,” Briscoe said. “It was the first time I’d really had a chance to practice coming into the pits under green. We missed the first practice session yesterday, and that’s when you usually practice in and out laps.”
The runner-up finish kept Briscoe in first place in the IndyCar Series standings after seven of 16 races this season. He is the first drier to hold the points lead for two consecutive races, and it is his third consecutive runner-up finish. The series resumes Saturday night with another short-oval race, the SunTrust Challenge at Richmond International Raceway.
Hideki Mutoh finished third, followed by Dan Wheldon, Tomas Scheckter, Helio Castroneves and Mike Conway. Danica Patrick and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top 10.
Tony Kanaan led early in the race before his car spun and crashed in Turn 2 on the 111th lap, his third consecutive crash at Iowa Speedway. “"I have been caught in the second turn for the past three years,” he said. “I think it was a combination of the cold tires and me pushing a bit too hard.”
Wheldon led briefly before the battle gave way to Briscoe and Franchitti, who led 134 of the final 136 laps. Franchitti used lapped cars to his advantage over the final 50 laps to keep Briscoe from gaining ground, eventually beating the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara-Honda to the finish line by 5.0132 seconds.
“The car wasn't great yesterday morning (in the first practice session),” Franchitti said. “We were second-quickest. We weren't that happy. In the afternoon, we made two changes and the thing was a rocket ship. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to show it, because qualifying was rained out.”
Briscoe said he thought he might be able to catch Franchitti during the final 50 laps with some help from timing and lapped cars, but Franchitti precisely weaved through traffic and created distance.
“It took me a while to find out where the car needed to be, but once I did, it was lightning quick,” Briscoe said. “I had a great battle with Dario. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough for him at the end. I thought with the lapped traffic coming up I was going to be able to catch him like I did during the previous stint, but he actually got the luckier draw with the traffic and was able to extend the lead. It was tough, but it was a pretty good day to come in second and keep the points lead.”
Mutoh notched his season high with the third-place effort, one spot below his career-high runner-up finish at Iowa last year.
"I was hoping to be one step up on the podium,” he said. “This is one step down, but it's still a podium finish, so I'm happy. It seems like Iowa is my favorite track because of the results.”
Wheldon held on after leading a portion of the middle of the race for a fourth-place effort that left him sixth in the standings. “I tended to lose a few places on starts and restarts,” Wheldon said. “But once the car came in, it was as good as anybody out there.”
In the end, though, Franchitti was heaping praise on his crew members, who made up for mistakes on a pit stop that may have cost Franchitti victory in the Indianapolis 500 in May.
“I do my job to the best of my ability, and I leave it to my team, who has absolute faith to do theirs. Everybody, especially me, makes mistakes. But you trust your guys and to put the car together right, and you trust them to do great pit stops. You trust the engineers to set the car up right. And they trust me to do my job, so we just let each other get on with it. Today they showed why they're the best in the business.”RESULTS:Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1h39m47.9077s
2. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 5.0132s
3. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green + 10.9769s
4. Dan Wheldon Panther + 17.5807s
5. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 1 lap
6. Tomas Scheckter Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap
7. Helio Castroneves Penske + 1 lap
8. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold + 1 lap
9. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 1 lap
10. Ed Carpenter Vision + 2 laps
11. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 5 laps
12. Marco Andretti Andretti Green + 6 laps
13. Jaques Lazier 3G + 13 lapsRetirements:
Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 108 laps
Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 58 laps
Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 53 laps
Mario Moraes KV 52 laps
Justin Wilson Coyne 33 laps
Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt 2 laps
EJ Viso HVM 0 laps