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Dario's Milwaukee Win a Texas Two-Step
Dario Franchitti would never admit he had a chip on his shoulder this weekend at the Milwaukee Mile.
He would never cop to taking extra motivation from what he perceived as an unfair format a week ago, when a blind draw put him 28th on the grid for the second of twin races at Texas Motor Speedway.
Franchitti drove that second Texas race with calculated fury to finish seventh without the benefit of a single full-course caution. And he was equally aggressive Sunday over the course of 225 frantic laps of the Milwaukee bullring to claim his third victory of the 2011 season.
On an historic level, the 29th race win of the Scotsman's Indy car career brought him level with Rick Mears. Of more immediate interest, it vaulted Franchitti into a tie for the Izod IndyCar Series points lead with Will Power, who finished fourth at Milwaukee.
"Delighted!" said an enthusiastic Franchitti after leading 161 laps in his Downy-sponsored Ganassi Racing entry to win by 1.43 seconds over Graham Rahal, with Oriol Servia third. "I'm humbled by it. It's a weird thing to think about those kind of numbers and being around guys like Johnny Rutherford and Rick. It doesn't really compute, if you know what I mean.
"Team Target did a great job again in the pits. It was typical Milwaukee -- working traffic all day, trying not to make mistakes and not letting anybody get a run on you."
Franchitti had to work hard for this one, racing wheel to wheel for much of the afternoon with his friend Tony Kanaan. Helio Castroneves was also a contender for victory before a punctured left-rear tire forced him to make an extra pit stop that left him ninth in the final results.
Kanaan twice passed Franchitti on the track, but TK crashed his KV Racing car out of second place with 30 laps remaining.
"My fault," Kanaan admitted. "I was trying, and when you're trying to win races, that's the way it is. But it was fun and we raced each other hard the whole race."
During the subsequent full-course caution, Team Penske informed Castroneves that his tire was losing pressure and called him into the pits. As far as Franchitti was concerned, that was poetic justice.
"It was fun to race with Tony," Franchitti said. "He was very aggressive, but in the best possible sense -- unlike his Brazilian brother in the Penske car [Castroneves]. He was blocking inside and outside, and it's no wonder he got a flat tire considering some of the parts of the track he was using.
"It was Helio's usual blocking crap and I don't know what it's going to take to understand blocking is not part of what we do in the IndyCar Series."
With Kanaan eliminated and Castroneves delayed, Franchitti was able to reel off the final 21 green flag laps with a comfortable cushion over Rahal, who has claimed three top-three finishes in his Past four starts.
"It feels fantastic to get our third podium of the season," Rahal said. "I hoped that we would compete well here and I think our team [Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing] is really starting to gel.
"What's going to put us over the top is qualifying better," added Rahal, who started 12th Sunday. "To pass 27 cars at Indy and 10 here is challenging. We have to work on our qualifying and start races right up with the big guys."
For Power, finishing fourth after a poor qualifying run that left him 17th on the grid was a satisfying result.
"We had a big moment and nearly crashed in practice on Friday, and we kind of lost our way after that," said the Australian, who is a two- time winner in 2011. "Our race car was much better than our qualifying car and getting a really good restart after the last yellow helped out a lot.
"I just kind of bided my time in the first half of the race and people ahead of us started falling back," continued the Team Penske ace. "I'm pretty happy with fourth place after where we started."
Servia moved up to third place in the points race after a quietly excellent drive. A slow second pit stop caused by a malfunctioning wheel gun dropped the Catalonian to 12th place, but he methodically worked his way back to the front.
Rookie James Hinchcliffe capped an excellent day for Newman/Haas Racing by taking an IndyCar career-best sixth-place finish.
"It's awesome," Servia said. "We've been so close to the podium so many times and things just don't come easy. When I fell to 12th, the team told me it was only the halfway point so I thought, 'If I can do it once in the first half of the race, I can do it again.'
"The car was amazing," he added. "The double-file restarts were a lot of fun and I'm just so happy to give a podium to the team."
While Franchitti enjoys studying racing history, his focus is firmly on the future and his championship battle with Power. Servia is 73 points behind the leading duo.
"It's good to be tied for the championship lead, but if we keep winning races, then the championship will take care of itself," Franchitti said. "I look at every race, and for me, it doesn't matter what happened last year or whenever. You've got to go out and you've got to do your job from the start of the week. As a driver you have to figure out what you've got to do each weekend to give yourself a chance.
"I never take it for granted that we are going to do well. Each weekend, you've got a fight on your hands."