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Monday, August 30, 2010

IndyCar Race Review: Peak Antifreeze Indy 300

If Saturday's Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 will go down in history as the final IZOD IndyCar Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, the fans in attendance and watching on television certainly got everything they hoped for in a finale.

Dario Franchitti held off a hard-charging Dan Wheldon after a daring call in the pits gave him the late-race lead, producing the 17th-closest finish in IndyCar history. His victory closed some of the gap on points leader Will Power, who had been leading late in the race but ran out of fuel with five laps to go to finish way down the running order.

All in all, the race featured a record-breaking 25 lead changes among 11 drivers. Ryan Briscoe dominated the early stages of the event, battling side-by-side with Marco Andretti for a good chunk of the race's early stages. Briscoe, the polesitter and defending race winner, led 113 of the race's 200 laps, though he could only muster an 11th place finish.

Meanwhile, the top four drivers in the finishing order - Franchitti, Wheldon, Andretti, and Ryan Hunter-Reay - all led at least two laps, with Franchitti's 28 tops among them. Franchitti actually did not lead until the very end of the race, when his team gambled by not taking tires under the final caution. While Briscoe could not keep others from leading laps while he was out in front, Franchitti managed to do just that

Some of the drivers who spent time up front were surprising, to say the least. Wheldon, Vitor Meira, and Alex Lloyd all led a handful of laps. Even the part-time entries of Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher spent time up front; Fisher stayed out under the race's second caution to gain the point, but managed to hold a top-three position for many laps after the green flag dropped.

Unfortunately for the little guys, nobody was really there at the end besides Wheldon. Meira salvaged a ninth place finish, but Fisher was the first car a lap down in 15th, Carpenter pulled out after 179 laps when his team couldn't get fuel into the car, and Lloyd crashed out to finish 21st.

Heartbreak was no stranger to the series' top team, either. Power nearly lost control of his car in the early laps of the race, making a fantastic save, a feat he would have to replicate a couple of other times before the night was over. Power drove his heart out all night, showing a level of talent we had previously only witnessed from him on the road and street courses, and was a contender for victory until the very end.

Unfortunately, Chicagoland left Power and his Team Penske crew with Indianapolis 500 deja vu: a fueler error ended all hope for a strong finish. At Indy, it was Power driving off with part of his fuel assembly; at Chicago, the team didn't quite get enough in the car to make it. To his credit, Power was surprisingly upbeat in post-race interviews, looking forward to the challenge of maintaining his points lead over the final three races.

With three races to go and Kentucky up next on the schedule, Power's points lead has shrunk from 59 to 23 over Franchitti. It may be a race between those two alone; third-place Scott Dixon is 85 points out, while no other driver is within 100.

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