FORT WORTH (AP) – Dario Franchitti held off teammate Scott Dixon in a 10-lap shootout Saturday night to win the first of two races at Texas in the first doubleheader in major open-wheel racing in 30 years.
Franchitti led 110 of 114 laps and finished 0.0527 seconds ahead of Dixon, with the Target Chip Ganassi teammates ahead of Will Power and polesitter Alex Tagliani.
The first race on the 1 1/2-mile high-banked track was on a blistering pace of more than 207 mph, which would have been the fastest in IndyCar Series history, before the Indianapolis 500-winning car driven by rookie Wade Cunningham, not Dan Wheldon, was involved in a crash for the only caution to set up the final sprint.
“I saw Dixie. That’s a guy you don’t want to see, especially with a side-by-side restart,” Franchitti said. “I managed to get a good restart, was able to stay ahead of him, and at the same time he was able to stay ahead of Will. That was 1-2 for the team. Worked out pretty good.”
The average speed wound up 181.649 mph, and the race was over in less than 55 minutes.
There was an abbreviated celebration between races for Franchitti’s 28th victory, which moved him into 10th place overall on the career list past Fort Worth native and three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford. Franchitti shot the customary six-shooters in Victory Lane for his first victory at Texas, where he was twice a runner-up.
During the break between races, the starting order for the second race was determined by a blind draw. Tony Kanaan, who finished 11th in the first race, drew the pole position and Franchitti was starting 28th in the 30-car field.
Power, the Team Penske driver that entered the weekend as the series points leader by just 16 points ahead of Franchitti, started the second race from the No. 3 position.
The race-tightening crash in the opener came with 22 laps remaining when rookie drivers Charlie Kimball and Cunningham made contact in the fourth turn.
Wheldon had only a one-race contract with Bryan Herta Autosport at Indy two weeks ago, when he drove to victory in the No. 98 car that was leased from Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Because of damage to one of its other cars at Indianapolis, the Schmidt team decided to use that Indy 500 championship car at Texas for the Firestone Twin 275s as No. 99. It sustained significant damage.
Cunningham went to a backup car for the second race, and drew the No. 2 starting spot.
Franchitti had built a nearly 5-second lead before the crash, but was able to drive around the wreckage without any issues.
“I had slowed down already,” Franchitti said. “I was already fully in control of where I was going to go.”
After the first attempt to start the race was waved off because Tagliani took off to soon, they were side-by-side on the second attempt. Franchitti, who qualified second, took the lead in the first turn.
“The biggest problem was traffic and working my way through that,” Franchitti said. “The first win at Texas feels good.”
Only 12 of the 30 drivers, the largest field ever at Texas, finished on the lead lap.
“Dario’s car was pretty quick, drove away from the field,” Dixon said. “It was fun out there, and then crazy. The race blows by so quick”
Before Saturday night, there had only been 17 twin races, nine on ovals, in the history of U.S. open-wheel racing including CART and USAC. All of those twin bills were between 1967 and 1981, the last being a CART-sanctioned event Rick Mears won at Atlanta.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)