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Franchitti, Power title battle headlines 2010 IndyCar season

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) -

The IndyCar Series -- with new title sponsor IZOD -- enjoyed another thrilling season this year, as far as the championship race was concerned. Dario Franchitti and Will Power took their points battle all the way to last Saturday's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with Franchitti claiming his third title.

Other headlines in IndyCar this season included the first race in a South American country, a revision to the championship format and the appointment of a new top boss.

All in all, it was a season to remember in America's most popular open-wheel racing series.

SUPER DARIO III

Dario Franchitti established himself as one of the all-time greats in American open-wheel racing after capturing his third IndyCar championship. Franchitti's eighth-place run, coupled with a 25th-place finish at Homestead, allowed him to clinch the title by just five points over Power, who had led in points for a majority of the season.

Franchitti became the first driver to win back-to-back IndyCar championships since Sam Hornish Jr. did it in 2001 and '02. He also joined Hornish as the only drivers in the 15-year history of the series to win three titles. Franchitti's first championship came in 2007, when he drove for Andretti Green Racing.

Dario Franchitti has evolved into the sport's most accomplished driver today.
The 37-year-old Scotsman also claimed his second Indianapolis 500 victory this year. With two Indy 500 wins and three series titles in the past four seasons, Franchitti has evolved into the sport's most accomplished driver today.

"Good haul, isn't it," Franchitti said. "Look back to the start of 2007, I hadn't won a championship. I won a lot of races, but not a championship or Indy 500. Now we find ourselves with two 500s and three championships. I'm just going to enjoy it."

Franchitti's campaign for a second consecutive championship did not come easy. Power led in points from the beginning of the season until the June 5 race at Texas Motor Speedway, when Franchitti held a three-point advantage over Power.

But Franchitti's lead was short-lived when he suffered a gear-box issue and finished a disappointing 18th at Iowa Speedway two weeks after Texas. Power reclaimed the points lead and held it until Homestead.

"I do believe the competition level in the series is going up," Franchitti said. "For whatever reason, we at Team Target, both Scott and myself, maybe didn't have the speed advantage we had last year. In some cases, we had to work harder to finish in the top five at races.

"So to come away with a championship after a season like this is very satisfying."

GANASSI'S REIGN CONTINUES?

Franchitti's IndyCar career has been nothing short of a success since he returned to circuit after a brief stint in NASCAR in 2008. He has notched eight IndyCar wins since joining Target Chip Ganassi Racing two years ago.

Despite three wins this year, Franchitti's teammate, Scott Dixon, had his share of mishaps on the track throughout the season. Dixon, the 2008 titleholder, ended the season third in points (-55).

"I made a lot of mistakes, and the team as a whole made a lot of mistakes," Dixon said. "I think the past four or five years I've had a chance at the last race to win a championship, and this year not coming into it definitely was a shock."

Dixon ended his season on a high note with a victory at Homestead.

Franchitti's championship capped off a sensational year for Chip Ganassi, who as a team owner won the Daytona 500 (Jamie McMurray), the Indianapolis 500 (Franchitti), the Brickyard 400 (McMurray) and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype championship (Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas).

"I've said it many times; I'm blessed with who I get to work with, and I'm honored to represent the companies we represent," Ganassi said.

POWER-FUL COMEBACK

Will Power had a remarkable season in his first full year with Team Penske. Power led the series with five wins and set a season record with his eight poles. All five of his wins came on road/street courses.

After his victory in the ninth and final course event of the season at Sonoma, CA, Power held a comfortable 59-point lead over Franchitti. But Power's championship bid fell apart during the final four races, which were all contested on 1.5-mile ovals. The Aussie finished 16th at Chicagoland and then eighth at Kentucky before recording his career-best performance on an oval with a third-place run at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.

Power entered Homestead with a 12-point lead over Franchitti, but Power's title hopes abruptly came to an end just after the halfway point when he scraped the wall and sustained heavy damage to his right-rear suspension. He ended up finishing 57 laps behind in 25th-place, marking the first time he failed to finish a race this season.

"It's been the best year of my career in motorsports," Power said. "Obviously, I'm very disappointed with the outcome."

Power's career nearly came to an end last year when he sustained multiple injuries during a practice crash at Sonoma. He suffered two broken vertebrae and a concussion, which sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

After making a full recovery, Power made an impressive comeback by winning the March 14 inaugural race in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He won again two weeks later at St. Petersburg, FL.

Even though he came up short of winning the championship this year, expect Power to be a serious title contender in 2011.

"I'm going to be very determined next year," Power said. "I want to come back and have as strong a season, and I definitely want to be stronger on the ovals. I know that for a fact."

DANICA-MANIA IN NASCAR, BUT NOT SO MUCH IN INDYCAR

Danica Patrick made her much-publicized foray into stock car racing, but her efforts in IndyCar did not go as well as she expected this year. Patrick posted only three top-five finishes and ended her IndyCar season a disappointing 10th in points. Her season concluded on a positive note though, as she finished second at Homestead.

"It's been a tough year, and it's been very frustrating," Patrick said. "It seems like it's a second or a 20th this year for me, so it's very frustrating."

Patrick also finished second at Texas.

She was among five females who competed in IndyCar this season. Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz were newcomers to the circuit. Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno are series veterans.

Patrick will compete in the final six NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year, beginning with Saturday's event at California.

COOL IT, HELIO

Helio Castroneves provided one of the most memorable moments in IndyCar this season. Castroneves had a post-race altercation with officials after he was penalized during the final laps of the July 25 event in Edmonton, Canada.

The Team Penske driver held the lead when he was issued a black flag for blocking his teammate, Power, just after a restart with three laps to go. He failed to take the drive-through pit-lane penalty. Race control officials later placed him at the tail end of the lead lap, which resulted in a 10th- place finish.

Castroneves was furious with the penalty, and he confronted two officials in the pits and made physical contact with one of them.

Several days later, Castroneves was fined $60,000 and placed on probation until season's end for refusing to follow the direction of officials and for unsportsmanlike conduct.

NEW CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT AND IRL TOP BOSS

Early in the season, Indy Racing League officials announced the expansion of its championship format. The highest-scoring oval and road/street course drivers won separate titles.

Power wrapped up the course championship and the Mario Andretti Trophy after finishing second in the August 8 race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Franchitti clinched the oval championship and took home the A.J. Foyt Trophy last month at Motegi.

"We want to recognize the drivers that master the disciplines that make up this sport as they pursue the ultimate prize -- the IZOD IndyCar Series championship," said Randy Bernard, who was named as IRL's new Chief Executive Officer prior to the start of the season. "We feel this platform will give added value to events on our schedule and creates more momentum behind the drivers and teams that excel at ovals and road races."

Bernard had served as a longtime executive at Professional Bull Riders, Inc. His appointment came eight months after Tony George resigned as CEO of the IRL.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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