2009 championship preview: Dario Franchitti

IndyCar commentary — By on October 6, 2009 10:55 pm

(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)

Dario Franchitti comes to Homestead in second place in the championship, five points behind Scott Dixon and as the least talked about member of the triumvirate with an opportunity to win the championship.

Like his Target Chip Ganassi Racing stablemate, Dario only has to do one thing this weekend to secure his second IndyCar Series Championship — win.

It has been an amazing season for Dario regardless of the outcome after taking a year away from the sleek IndyCar machines to run the lumberjack series. Everyone knows it was a very difficult year for Dario in NASCAR last year, and nobody was happier for Dario to be back running where he belongs than was Dario himself. People wondered if it would take him a while to get re-acclimated to an IndyCar. It took him all of two races.

Dario followed his win at Long Beach with victories at Iowa, Toronto, and Infineon. What is missing from Dario’s resume this year is a victory on a course that requires a lot of passing. For the most part, Dario’s victories have come in races where he started near the front and did not have to fight for position. In fact, in his four wins this year, Dario has not started worse than fourth in any of them. In addition to his four wins, Dario has amassed eight other top-five finishes and 14 total top-10s.

One interesting stat of Dario’s is that in only six of the 16 races run this year has he finished in a worse position than he started, including his crash at Kansas (his only DNF on the season). Dario is a very consistent performer who will put himself in a position to win this championship on Saturday afternoon. In five previous starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dario has never qualified worse than seventh and has recorded three top-10 finishes with a career best of fourth in 2006.

Why Dario will win the championship:
Dario’s consistency this year will put him in a position to fight for the win with 20 laps remaining. IndyCar races on the 1.5-mile oval tracks are always a bit of a crap shoot, and luck plays as much of a factor and any of a dozen other things. Putting himself in a position to win during the final laps will obviously be critical, and Dario has proven many times this year that he can put himself there.

To help him get in a position to win, the #10 car will be crewed by one of the best pit crews in the business. Whether it is the #9 or the #10 team, the Target teams are always second-to-none when it comes to pit stop execution. More often than not, the pit crews play a huge role in the outcome of a race, especially if the final pit stop occurs under yellow flag conditions.

Dario has been a very good qualifier this year, earning four poles, one of which was at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in June. His four wins this year have proven that once Dario gets to the lead, he is difficult to pass. If Dario and Scott can get to the front of the field, they will be wise enough to run nose-to-tail in an effort to break away from the rest of the pack, thus allowing the championship battle to come down to a two-man, inter-team battle for the checkered flag.

Why Dario will not win the championship:
Dario, for all his technical ability, has never been the master on the 1.5-mile ovals that his teammates have been. Excluding his victory at Indianapolis in 2007, Dario’s best superspeedway finishes have been a pair of victories at California in 2006 and Chicagoland in 2007, the latter a race that Scott Dixon rightfully should have won had he not run out of fuel on the last corner of the last lap.

Dario’s preference for setting up a car with a slight bit of understeer does not lend itself well to high-speed oval tracks, especially if this race should come down to a last-lap shootout. To that end, it is also a disadvantage for Dario, particularly in relation to Ryan Briscoe, that he and his teammate do not have compatible car set-ups during a race event. Dixon prefers a looser car, while Dario, as previously mentioned, prefers a touch of push in his car. This difference often means that the two Target teams are unable to share the information back and forth that other teams might be able to do. Perhaps this would explain, to a small degree, the reason the Target boys have generally been chasing the Penske boys on the 1.5-mile “cookie-cutter” tracks this year.

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