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St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) - Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti put on a dominating performance to win Sunday's season- opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Franchitti showed he is the man to beat for this year's IndyCar title after leading 94 of 100 laps on the 1.8-mile street circuit on St. Petersburg. It was his first win in six attempts here.
He passed Will Power, the pole sitter, just after the first restart on the fifth lap and took command from there. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver only relinquished the top position during a late-race round of pit stops. He finished 7.2 seconds ahead of Power from Team Penske.
Even though the win looked easy, Franchitti claimed it was a difficult task.
"This Target team always keeps fighting, and they've told me to never give up," said Franchitti, who earned his 17th career IndyCar win. "What a brilliant team effort. That was hard to do it today."
Last year, Franchitti captured his record-tying third IndyCar championship, edging Power by just five points.
"Dario was so quick, and I could not keep up with him on the black [tires]," said Power, who won this race one year ago.
Tony Kanaan, who secured a full-time ride with KV Racing Technology-Lotus earlier this week, held off a hard-charging Simona de Silvestro in the closing laps to finish an impressive third.
"I didn't expect anything," Kanaan said. "I've got to thank the whole KV Racing team for giving me an opportunity to race this weekend."
De Silvestro finished a career-best fourth in her HVM Racing car.
"This team did an awesome job," de Silvestro said. "To finish fourth is pretty unbelievable."
Japan's Takuma Sato from KVRT-Lotus completed the top-five.
Danica Patrick, who competed in four NASCAR Nationwide Series races before the start of the IndyCar season, originally crossed the finish line in 11th, but Patrick was penalized one spot in the finishing order after race officials determined she made "avoidable contact" with rookie J.R. Hildebrand on the last lap.
Just before the halfway point, Patrick made contact with Justin Wilson and suffered damage to her front wing following a restart.
Patrick was the only one of four Andretti Autosport drivers who finished the race. A six-car wreck occurred on the first turn of the opening lap when Patrick's teammate, Marco Andretti, and Helio Castroneves from Penske bumped into each other. Andretti's car flipped upside down. He climbed out of the car uninjured after track personnel turned it right-side up.
Andretti, who finished 24th in the 25-car field, blamed Castroneves for the incident.
"I think Helio misjudged his braking by about a football field," a frustrated Andretti said. "I had a good start going. I was trying to get into the turn inside of [Ryan] Briscoe, but that's what happens. If we try to start so close together, it's great for the fans, but it was not good for me today."
Castroneves, the only driver to win at St. Pete twice, finished 15 laps down in 20th.
"As far as the incident, I'll have to look and see what happened, but it seems like I locked up the rear on the car," he said.
Mike Conway from Andretti was among those caught up in the accident. He limped back to the pits and retired with a 23rd-place result.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, also from Andretti, bowed out during the mid-stages when he suffered handling issues with the car. Hunter-Reay wound up 21st in his first start with Michael Andretti's team.
Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Oriol Servia were also involved in the first-lap melee. Dixon and Briscoe finished five laps behind in 16th and 18th, respectively. Servia rebounded nicely for a nine-place run.
Sebastien Bourdais did not start the race due to a practice crash earlier in the day. Bourdais, a four-time consecutive Champ Car titleholder and former Formula One driver, made contact with the inside wall at the track's chicane area. He then slammed into the outside barrier, which damaged his car beyond repair.
Bourdais is driving a Dale Coyne entry in the IndyCar road/street courses this year.
His teammate, James Jakes, a rookie in the series, also crashed during the morning practice. Jakes was able to compete in his first IndyCar race, finishing 15th.
03/27 17:51:33 ET
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