TITLE RACE UP FOR GRABS NOW
By: John Oreovicz
NEWTON, Iowa -- Lost in the excitement of Marco Andretti's thrilling victory Saturday night in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 was the intrigue of the IndyCar Series championship battle between Dario Franchitti and Will Power.
Those same protagonists who took the 2010 IndyCar championship chase down to the wire arrived in Iowa deadlocked with 271 points.
And while Franchitti could rightfully be disappointed by finishing fifth after leading 172 of the 250 laps, his night was still better than Power's.
The Team Penske driver was delayed by a pit-lane incident, and he later crashed heavily in Turn 2, sustaining a minor concussion.
The upshot is that Franchitti heads into the midseason break prior to the July 10 Honda Indy Toronto with a 20-point championship lead. Meanwhile, Power must nurse an aching head.
"To get the points lead is good, but I didn't want to get it by Will crashing," Franchitti said. "I was happy to see Will get out of the car, because like myself, he's had some issues with his back and it looked like a fairly sore hit.
"We'll continue our battle in Toronto together."
The Australian's troubles started when he was waved out of his first pit stop into the path of rookie Charlie Kimball. Power stayed on the lead lap despite a series of pit stops to repair the damage from the pit-lane collision, but ran near the back before crashing on Lap 90.
The heavy impact appeared to daze Power but he walked to the ambulance and gave an interview to Versus pit reporter Kevin Lee after he was released from the infield care center.
"Rung my bell a bit then -- that hurt," Power said. "Probably shouldn't have been out there with a damaged car, I think.
"S---, man, that's not good."
Power again deviated from the Penske playbook when he pointed the finger at his No. 12 crew.
"They just sent me out and [Kimball] came across my bow," Power said. "That was that. It bent the steering and broke the front wing. I guess that's what caused the accident. I had to put so much lock in to turn the car, then it caught me out.
"Once again we screwed ourselves in the pits like we always do. We've just got to stop that."
Franchitti also had trouble in the pits, but it wasn't nearly as costly. He lost the lead to Andretti on a Lap 184 pit stop when crewman Steve Namisnak encountered trouble at the left front corner of the car.
The Scotsman led 172 of the first 184 laps in his Suave-liveried car but he said his car wasn't comfortable anywhere but out front.
"We had a problem in the last pit stop and Marco got ahead," Franchitti said. "Then TK [Tony Kanaan] had a better restart and got around me.
"All night it had been getting more oversteery," he added. "They asked if I wanted a change at the last stop and I said 'No, just leave it' because I thought I could hang on. But once I got in traffic, I couldn't and I was really struggling at the end."
Dario nearly crashed while running third behind Andretti and Kanaan and he lost an additional position to JR Hildebrand to finish fifth.
"We led a lot of laps tonight but as a team we didn't get the job done," Franchitti said. "Marco did a hell of a job and deserved that, and Scott Dixon coming from last to third was really impressive.
"We didn't do the job, but we still finished fifth after we tried to knock down the Turn 4 wall a couple of times. Not where we wanted to finish but it was a hell of a race tonight. One of those things. Not a bad points night."
Franchitti won the season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and since then, he and Power have swapped the championship lead four times.
Power built a 21-point lead after he won the second race of the Texas Motor Speedway doubleheader. But Franchitti bounced back to tie his rival at the top after winning at Milwaukee, and there has been a 41-point swing in his favor in the last two races.
"Points, points, points & everybody is getting excited about points," Franchitti said in a post-race interview at Iowa with Versus. "Each point is important, but I'm not thinking about points.
"I'm trying to take it one race at a time."