If you thought that IndyCar was nothing more than a boring spec series where one of two teams wins every single weekend, Saturday night’s Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 should have changed your mind. There were twenty five lead changes among ten drivers, including Sarah Fisher who led laps 81 – 90; if there’s a team in IndyCar with a more modest budget than Sarah Fisher Racing, I’m not aware of it. The final margin of victory was just over 4/100 of a second, and the top ten drivers finished the race within a second of one another. Twenty nine cars started the race, and cars were routinely running three and four wide in the corners; spec series or not, racing doesn’t get any better than this. Too bad that Chicago gets crossed of the list for the 2011 season.
It looked like it was going to be yet another win for Team Penske’s Will Power, who was determined to show he can win on ovals as well as road and street courses. Power was the man to beat with five laps remaining, when his team broke the bad news that he wouldn’t have enough fuel to finish the race and had to pit. On an earlier pit stop, Power’s Penske crew somehow missed getting a full fuel load aboard his car; their error dropped Power from first place to sixteenth, and showed that even the best teams make mistakes.
It was good luck for Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who came from a tenth place start to win on sound pit strategy. In a huge roll of the dice, his crew opted for fuel only, no fresh tires, on his final pit stop. Their gamble took Franchitti from ninth position to first, and he managed to defend his lead even on badly worn tires. Franchitti crossed the line about 1/25 of a second ahead of Dan Wheldon, driving for Panther Racing, who took second. Marco Andretti, of Andretti Autosport, rounded out the podium positions after driving one of his best races this season.
Franchitti’s win closes the championship points gap to Will Power. Power still leads the series standings with 528 points, but has a narrow 23 point advantage over second place Franchitti. Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon, is in third place overall with 443 points. One thing’s clear: with three races left in the season, the championship probably won’t be decided until the last race in Miami.