Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
IndyCar Title Chase Comes Down to Final Turn of Final Lap
After 17 races, 2,933 laps and the usual 200 mile-per-hour madness, the 2007 Indy Racing League title came down to the final lap. It was Dario Franchitti versus Scott Dixon battling for the lead and the IRL crown and, unlike in NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series, there wasn't a contrived playoff system to make the points race closer.
It was perfect. Whoever led that last lap would emerge as champion.
"That was cool. It came down to me and Scott on the last two corners of the last lap, which pretty much summed up the year," said Franchitti, who claimed the championship following the dramatic ending.
Dixon, who trailed Franchitti by three points coming into the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, held a slim lead as the two championship contenders stormed into Turn 3, but his Target Dallara/Honda suddenly ran out of fuel and Dario swept past to claim the first major championship of his distinguished career.
"I had a good run on him and was alongside in Turns One and Two, and that's where we stayed going down the backstretch," related Franchitti. "When Scott sputtered, he moved up a little and I had to make a hard right turn to miss him, and that sent me a little higher on the track than I wanted.
"I don't know if I could have beaten him to the finish line, but it was going to be close. It turned out to be a lot more exciting than I would have liked."
The 34-year-old Scotsman became the third consecutive driver to capture the IRL title and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season, while giving Andretti Green Racing a third championship to join Tony Kanaan (2004) and Dan Wheldon (2005).
"I'm happier than I thought I would [be]," admitted Franchitti, who scored four victories in 2007. "Winning the Indy 500, that was a great feeling, but this is different.
"I think because it's the whole year rolled into one, it means a hell of a lot. I always wanted to win Indy and a championship, and to accomplish both of those is massive."
As expected, it was a three-team battle between AGR, Target Ganassi and Team Penske in '07, as they combined to win all 17 races.
But down the stretch it was Franchitti and Kanaan against Dixon.
"I appreciate the challenge that Scott and his team gave us all year, and they were tough. They really were tough. And, again, that's another reason, when you beat competition of that nature - when you look at the people, the people that you've had to beat on the way to doing this - that gives me satisfaction knowing I've done a good job, and my team has done a good job.
"We said all year, even with a 65-point lead [in early July], I kept saying it was going to be close and it was."
Franchitti, whose boyhood idol, Jimmy Clark, triumphed at the 1965 Indianapolis 500, put his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy in the rainshortened May classic, and he followed that up with short-track wins at Iowa and Richmond before taking the finale on the Chicagoland Speedway oval outside Joliet, Ill.
"Four wins... all on ovals. That's not what people imagined," said the superb road racer.
Dixon, the 2003 IRL king who wound up 13 points behind Franchitti, ripped off three straight victories at Watkins Glen, Nashville and Mid-Ohio before taking a pivotal win at Sonoma. Calif. in late August, which put him in the point lead.
Kanaan, who led everybody with five wins, at Motegi, Milwaukee, Michigan, Kentucky and Belle Isle, sacrificed a chance to win at Sonoma to run interference for Franchitti and finished third, 61 points behind his teammate and good friend.
Wheldon won two of the first four races (Homestead and Kansas City) but only had four other top-five finishes and had to settle for fourth place.
Helio Castroneves (St. Pete) and three-time IndyCar Series champ Sam Hornish Jr. (Texas) each triumphed once but suffered too many DNFs (Did Not Finish) to contend for the title.
In her initial campaign with Andretti Green Racing, Danica Patrick came through with three podium performances (third at Texas and Nashville and second at Belle Isle) to place a very respectable seventh in the point standings.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who didn't join Rahal Letterman Racing until there were six races remaining, turned in some strong runs and was Rookie of the Year.