Dario Franchitti tore a huge chunk from Will Power's IndyCar points lead by winning at Chicagoland as a late refueling problem ruined Power's evening.
Race engineer Chris Simmons' decision not to change the No. 10 car's tires at the final stop allowed Franchitti to move to the front, where he resisted Dan Wheldon (Panther) and Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) to secure a crucial victory that brings Power's championship advantage down from 59 points to 23 with three rounds to go.
Penske driver Power had been in the thick of the lead fight as well, but did not receive sufficient fuel at his last pit stop, forcing him to pit and tumble to 16th in the closing moments.
The first half of what turned into an epic but heart-in-mouth race was all about Power's pole-winning Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe fending off huge pressure from Andretti. Once a fourth-lap multi-car collision that left Raphael Matos (De Ferran Dragon) and Tomas Scheckter (Conquest) in the wall, and Alex Lloyd (Dale Coyne) and Vitor Meira (Foyt) with damage was tidied up, Briscoe and Andretti launched into side-by-side battle with a huge pack of cars jostling behind them.
Even the first round of pit stops taking place under green failed to disrupt Briscoe and Andretti's dice, but things got more chaotic when the yellow came out again for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Ana Beatriz brushing the wall on lap 77.
The whole field bar owner/driver Sarah Fisher pitted to top up with fuel, and the stops saw disaster for KV Racing as Takuma Sato and EJ Viso tangled in the pit lane. Both had been running in the top 10, although a puncture had already cost Sato ground. Their teammate Mario Moraes' promising night was later ruined by a pit lane speeding penalty.
The first attempt at a restart was then abandoned due to Meira and Newman/Haas Racing's Hideki Mutoh (who had earlier left the pits with only one front wheel) tangling and taking out the innocent and bemused Alex Tagliani before the green flag had waved.
Fisher's strategy put her in the lead when the green did finally fly on lap 90 and, while Briscoe immediately blasted past her, the rest of the pack found the yellow car more difficult to shift– allowing Briscoe to make a temporary escape as everyone else tripped over each other trying to pass Fisher.
Power, Andretti and series returnee Ed Carpenter (Vision/Panther) were the first to make it through and they soon chased down Briscoe to resume the lead fight. But when the next round of pit stops took place under green with 65 laps to go, it was Wheldon who emerged in the lead ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, with Andretti and Power joining them in a ferocious battle, while Briscoe slipped back in the pack. Wheldon's return to the front was a mighty effort from the Briton and his Panther team, as a wheel problem at his first stop had previously dropped him into the midfield.
Power eventually sneaked through into the lead, taking Andretti with him, but the pack was totally reset again when Lloyd spun onto the infield and prompted a final yellow 31 laps from the finish. Everyone took the chance for a last pit stop and but Ganassi chose to save a few seconds by keeping the same set of tires on Franchitti's car. The Scot had been a consistent top 10 factor all day without ever looking like a major victory threat – even Chip admitted it was a fifth- or sixth-place car – but this strategy vaulted him to the front of the field ahead of Power, Wheldon, Hunter-Reay and Briscoe.
Franchitti was then able to cling on through the final 25 laps to secure victory, holding off Wheldon by just 0.0423sec at the line as the Panther driver made a final outside line bid for glory. The pressure on Franchitti was such that all 14 cars still on the lead lap were covered by just 1.5sec at the flag.
Andretti, Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan (Andretti) completed the top five, while Power was forced to back off and pit when it transpired the refueler hadn't gotten enough fuel in at the previous stop. This late splash 'n' dash dropped the championship leader to a dismal 16th-place finish.
Helio Castroneves slowly recovered to sixth in Penske's other car following a elongated first pit stop, while Justin Wilson emerged from the pack late on to take a fine seventh from 23rd on the grid for Dreyer & Reinbold.
Scott Dixon was a regular frontrunner but ended up shuffled back to eighth for Ganassi at the end, ahead of Meira – a remarkable ninth despite requiring two front wing changes following collisions – and Graham Rahal (Newman/Haas).
Briscoe was twice held out wide in the frenetic final shoot-out and plunged to 11th in a race he had controlled in the first stint. That completed a disastrous evening for Team Penske, who had seen all three cars qualify in the top four.
Another man to finish much lower than he deserved was Carpenter who had looked like a victory threat until a fueling problem followed by a pit lane speeding penalty took him out of contention.
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 200 laps
2. Dan Wheldon Panther + 0.0423s
3. Marco Andretti Andretti + 0.1051s
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 0.1631s
5. Tony Kanaan Andretti + 0.3408s
6. Helio Castroneves Penske + 0.4868s
7. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 0.5953s
8. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 0.9137s
9. Vitor Meira Foyt + 0.9588s
10. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas + 0.9841s
11. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 1.0185s
12. Bertrand Baguette Conquest + 1.0833s
13. Hideki Mutoh Newman/Haas + 1.3042s
14. Danica Patrick Andretti + 1.5658s
15. Sarah Fisher Sarah Fisher + 1 lap
16. Will Power Penske + 1 lap
17. Mario Moraes KV + 1 lap
18. Davey Hamilton De Ferran Dragon + 1 lap
19. Milka Duno Dale Coyne + 3 laps
Ed Carpenter Panther/Vision 179 laps
Jay Howard Sarah Fisher 162 laps
Alex Lloyd Dale Coyne 162 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM 150 laps
Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 88 laps
Alex Tagliani FAZZT 85 laps
Takuma Sato KV 80 laps
EJ Viso KV 80 laps
Tomas Scheckter Conquest 4 laps
Raphael Matos De Ferran Dragon 4 laps