California dreaming: Power sweeps weekend

By Dave Lewandowski

SONOMA, Calif. — That Will Power maintained a 6-second lead and had swept bonus points for earning the PEAK Performance Pole Award and leading the most laps wasn’t lost on Dario Franchitti three-quarters of the way through the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Trouble was, the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who was attempting to further close the points gap in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship in the 75-lap race, couldn’t do much about it on the 2.303-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway course.

Power, much like Franchitti did a year earlier in going wire to wire on the natural-terrain course, bolted to a sizable lead on the Firestone alternate tires in the first 10 laps, stretched the ethanol when needed and held off Scott Dixon by 0.7432 of a second following a full-course caution with less than 10 laps left.

Power’s fifth victory of the season, supplemented by the three bonus points, gives the Team Penske driver a 59-point advantage over Franchitti with four ovals races left in the season. Power, who watched the race in ’09 from a hospital bed after suffering a season-ending back injury in a practice crash, is sixth different winner in as many IZOD IndyCar Series races at Infineon.

“It’s unreal. What a perfect weekend,” Power said. “I just have to thank the Verizon guys and Roger (Penske) and Tim (Cindric) for giving me this opportunity. To come back and win it from the pole is just fantastic. I’ve said it all season, I wanted to come back here and win this race.”

Following the final round of pit stops between Laps 54 (Franchitti) and 57 (Dixon), Power (who pitted on Lap 56) held a 3.6153-second advantage over Franchitti, who was on the Firestone primary tires for the final stint. Dixon, riding on the alternates, moved into second on Lap 62 in an effort to reel in Power.

A full-course yellow on Lap 66 did the trick, and after returning to green Dixon was 0.3959 of a second back on Lap 71. He remained less than a second behind but wasn’t able to force Power into a mistake or complete a pass.

“The unfortunate part is that we really only get one set of stickers for the race with the red tires,” said Dixon, who posted his eighth top 5 of the season and is third in the championship standings. “They were night and day quicker so we had to take used at the end.

“We really needed to be ahead of the 12 car, and I pushed it as hard as I could at the end. I just couldn’t even get close enough to have a look. He was definitely hooked up and saving his tires earlier in the day. It’s still a good result. We’re happy to come from sixth all the way to second.”

Franchitti, who won two weeks earlier at Mid-Ohio to close to 41 points in the championship, finished 6.6 seconds back in third. Allowing Dixon to slide into second cost Franchitti five points in the title race.

“We did the best with what we had today,” he said. “We took a gamble on blacks at the end and it didn’t work for us, unfortunately. Scott was definitely quicker on reds and I let him go there, hoping he was going to hunt down Will. Scott really tried to get past him. There was such a speed difference on the blacks that we couldn’t get close to them at the end.”

Team Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves were next across the line. Justin Wilson in the No. 22 Z-Line Designs car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was sixth and Tony Kanaan finished seventh in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven/Dr Pepper Cherry car. Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was eighth in the No. 37 IZOD entry and Graham Rahal notched his second top 5 for Newman/Haas Racing in the No. 02 Quick Trim car.

“This was definitely not an easy weekend,” said Rahal, who started 16th. “I think we all have to be pretty pleased with the end result. Now we’ve got Chicagoland next week and it’s a place that we know we could have potentially won the race last year. There’s no reason we can’t do it this time.”

Alex Lloyd advanced 12 positions to complete the top 10 – a season best on a road/street course in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing — and increased his points lead in the Rookie of the Year race.


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