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Franchitti Wins Indy Race, Losses Ground On Power

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FORT WORTH (AP) – Dario Franchitti should have been able to really celebrate winning for the first time in Texas. Instead, he lost ground in IndyCar Series points by losing a lottery that could wind up costing him another championship.

After Franchitti’s dominating victory on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track, there was still another race in major open-wheel racing’s first doubleheader in 30 years. When starting positions for the Saturday night finale were determined by a blind draw during a gameshow-like production between races, Franchitti was 28th on the starting grid and points leader Will Power was third.

“We should never have been in that position,” Franchitti said. “To have a championship in the IndyCar Series, drawing the grid out of a hat is a joke. Through no fault of our own, we started 25 places behind Will. Will, he took advantage of it. … We had a massive handicap.”

While three-time series champion Franchitti was able to work his way through the field for a seventh-place finish, the points differential created by the luck — or bad luck — of a draw for the second race could be critical by the end of the season.

Power got to Texas in his Team Penske car with a 16-point lead over Franchitti. The gap was trimmed to seven points after Franchitti won the opener of the Firestone Twins 275s, with Power finishing third. That tripled to 21 after Power won the second 114-lap race.

To put that in perspective for the championship chase, Franchitti won his title last year over Power by five points. In 2009, Franchitti finished only 11 points ahead of Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, the runner-up in both races Saturday night.

“There’s enough variables out there,” Franchitti said. “We don’t need to be throwing dice to be deciding grid positions.”

Even though he benefited the most, Power agreed.

“It was going to be very unfair to someone. It happened to Dario,” Power said. “In a tightly fought championship, you just can’t have that. If it comes down to five points at the end of the year, Dario will look back at this race and say, ‘If I started where I should have, I would have had those five points.”‘

Texas has hosted some of the closest and most exciting races in IndyCar history. Track president Eddie Gossage and his crew added another twist this year with the doubleheader and using the blind draw instead of inverting the order of finish from the first race.

Indeed, drivers came on stage in inverted order between races to choose from 30 tires to spin to reveal their starting spots.

There were only three tires remaining when Power got on stage. Power celebrated as though he had already won the race when he drew the No. 3 starting spot, leaving only 18 and 28 for the Ganassi drivers. Dixon drew No. 18, relegating Franchitti to the second-to-last row.

“Obviously the draw definitely helps. … It was lucky,” Power said. “But if they started where they finished, it would have been a very fierce battle all the way through.”

The blind draw took Franchitti from elation to frustration.

“If they inverted it, I would have started two places worse off,” Franchitti said. “I would have been fine with that, because we all would have been in the same boat. Actually, the fans would have gotten a better show. Will, myself, Dixie, all those guys trying to get out to the front takes out the complete element of chance, which we don’t need.”

Franchitti qualified second for the opener, when he got his 28th victory to move into 10th place alone on the career list, breaking a tie with Fort Worth native and three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford.

While Franchitti liked the idea of racing twice in one day, he obviously would prefer to see some changes before doing it again.

“They have to balance the sport and entertainment aspect,” Franchitti said. “If we did this as kind of a stand-alone (event) without championship implications, then it would be ‘have at it.’ … But this race was a championship round. It’s a shame. Again, it’s a shame. To win here at Texas for the first time in front of a great crowd, I should be celebrating about that.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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