The Ebb and Flow of the IndyCar Title
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com
It's simplistic to say Dario Franchitti won the 2010 Izod IndyCar Series title because he won the oval racing portion of the championship. After all, ovals made up less than half the 17-race schedule.
It's also inaccurate and unfair to conclude that Will Power lost the championship by crashing out of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway after arriving with a 12-point lead over Franchitti. Both drivers were running at the finish of 16 of the 17 races, with Franchitti the victim of the only mechanical failure of the season between the two title contenders (a broken gearbox at Iowa Speedway).
Both drivers took pains to point out that the championship was not won or lost as a result of one race -- good or bad. Ultimately, what earned Franchitti his third IndyCar crown in the past four years was his greater consistency over the course of a long season.
The Scotsman won fewer races than his rival (three to Power's five), but Franchitti earned 13 top-5 finishes, two more than Power. At the end of the year, the top-10 tally was 14-13 in favor of Franchitti, whose average finish of 4.7 compared to Power's 6.3.
In qualifying, where Power set an IndyCar Series record with eight pole positions, the Australian held a substantial edge, with an average starting position of 2.2. compared to Franchitti's 4.8. In fact, Power never qualified lower than seventh, whereas Franchitti managed only two poles -- book-ending the season -- and started three races (St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Kentucky) outside the top 10. Factoring in laps led (Franchitti 561, Power 450), that added up to a 29-20 advantage in bonus points for Power.
At the halfway point of the season, both men had scored five top-5s and one additional top-10 finish. At that stage, Power held a 14-point advantage, with two race wins to Franchitti's single victory in the Indianapolis 500 -- which despite its much greater stature, pays the same number of points as every other race on the slate.
At the three-quarter mark (technically 13 of 17 races), the top-5 and top-10 tallies remained equal. Power's performance during the five events comprising the road racing "third quarter" was downright amazing -- four poles, three wins and two seconds as he expanded his advantage to 59 points. But Franchitti stayed relatively in touch by winning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and never finishing lower than third.
Franchitti emerged as champion by outscoring Power by 64 points during the final four oval races of the "fourth quarter" of the campaign. This was where Power's relative inexperience caught him out. Franchitti, who has competed in Indy car racing since the heyday of the CART-sanctioned series in 1997, admitted that it took him a couple of years to really get the hang of oval racing. In fact, it took the Scotsman almost six years (or 45 starts) to win an oval race in CART, the first coming at Rockingham, England, in late 2002, Franchitti's last year in that series.
By contrast, Power has made a total of 21 oval starts in his Indy car career, which dates to late 2005. At age 29 -- eight years younger than Franchitti -- Power has time on his side, and it's a foregone conclusion that the laconic Australian will win at least one Indy car championship if he remains in American open-wheel racing with Team Penske for the long term.
The bottom line is that, once again, the IndyCar Series produced a fantastic championship battle without any type of contrived playoff system. And despite the fact that only one driver could emerge as the champion, both combatants came away pleased with their efforts.
"No question, it has been a fantastic season," Power said. "The result wasn't what we wanted it to be at the end, but if we look back, this has been the best season of my career. I've learned a lot. I'm going to come back again next year, and ovals definitely won't be my weakness.
"As soon as I finished that last race, I was already thinking about next year and what I can do to improve," he added. "All the experience I gained this year has been unbelievable."
Said Franchitti: "Since 2007, it's all just clicked. I think when you figure out how to win a championship, you've kind of got that knowledge to fall back on. I've been very lucky to drive great equipment, both in 2007, and certainly since I've joined Team Target, and that all helps.
"It's a team sport. You're not going to do it without a great teammate, and the relationship I have with the guys and especially with my engineer, Chris Simmons, and the engineering staff. That is all critical to getting the most out of essentially everybody running the same equipment. You've got to find an advantage somewhere."
Here's a race-by-race look at the ups and downs of the 2010 IndyCar Series championship:
Franchitti: Qualified first, finished seventh. Led 29 laps.
Power: Qualified fifth, finished first. Led four laps.
Championship: Power 50, Franchitti 29 (sixth place)
A chaotic dry/wet/dry race that ended up being a timed event saw Power emerge victorious after passing Ryan Hunter-Reay with just four minutes remaining. Franchitti paced the first half but faded down the stretch.
Franchitti: Qualified 13th, finished fifth. Led three laps.
Power: Qualified first, finished first. Led 50 laps.
Championship: Power 103, Franchitti 59 (fourth place)
Franchitti struggled in qualifying and failed to make it out of his group, leading to a midfield start that compromised his chances in the race. In another wet/dry event, Power dropped back early but kept his cool and took a relatively unchallenged win.
Barber Motorsports Park
Franchitti: Qualified seventh, finished third.
Power: Qualified first, finished fourth. Led 12 laps.
Championship: Power 136, Franchitti 94 (third place)
Pit strategies saw Marco Andretti lead the most laps, and Helio Castroneves took the win. Power made an early pit stop, and committing to a three-stop strategy probably cost him an easy win on a difficult circuit for passing.
Franchitti: Qualified 12th, finished 12th.
Power: Qualified first, finished third. Led 19 laps.
Championship: Power 172, Franchitti 112 (sixth place)
Defending Long Beach champion Franchitti was conspicuously uncompetitive all weekend and later revealed he drove with a broken bone in his hand. Power took the pole but was beaten in the race by Hunter- Reay and Justin Wilson. Franchitti's 60-point deficit to Power was his largest of the season.
Franchitti: Qualified third, finished second. Led two laps.
Power: Qualified seventh, finished 12th.
Championship: Power 190, Franchitti 152 (fifth place)
Franchitti returned to form on the Kansas oval but played second fiddle to teammate Scott Dixon. Power admitted he simply raced too conservatively.
Franchitti: Qualified third, finished first. Led 155 laps.
Power: Qualified second, finished eighth. Led five laps.
Championship: Power 227, Franchitti 216 (second place)
Franchitti dominated the Indianapolis 500 to claim his second victory in the great race. Power was the fastest man on the track at times, but a pair of pit gaffes dropped him too deep in the field to recover. Indy was one of three races in which Franchitti made up more than 20 points (plus-27) on Power.
Franchitti: Qualified second, finished fifth. Led 86 laps.
Power: Qualified third, finished 14th. Led four laps.
Championship: Franchitti 246, Power 243 (second place)
Another top-5 finish for Franchitti on a track he does not enjoy.
Power again showed speed but was not rewarded with a good finish.
Franchitti temporarily took the championship lead.
Franchitti: Qualified fifth, finished 18th (retired -- gearbox). Led 69 laps.
Power: Qualified first, finished fifth. Led 32 laps.
Championship: Power 274, Franchitti 260 (sixth place)
Power claimed his first oval pole but was unable to translate it into a victory. Franchitti looked like the man to beat until a broken gearbox parked him less than 50 laps from the finish, but high attrition meant he lost only 17 points to Power.
Franchitti: Qualified fourth, finished third. Led 10 laps.
Power: Qualified first, finished first. Led 45 laps.
Championship: Power 327, Franchitti 295 (second place)
Power gained 18 points on his rival thanks to a maximum score of 53 points. Third place represented damage limitation for Franchitti on a weekend when Power was at his dominant best.
Franchitti: Qualified fifth, finished second. Led 22 laps.
Power: Qualified second, finished first. Led 15 laps.
Championship: Power 377, Franchitti 335 (second place)
Another nearly perfect weekend for Power as he and Franchitti continued to separate themselves from the rest of the field in terms of the championship.
Franchitti: Qualified fourth, finished third.
Power: Qualified first, finished second. Led 76 laps.
Championship: Power 420, Franchitti 370 (second place)
In retrospect, a critical event that could have cost Power the title.
Running second with a few laps to go, Power attempted to pass teammate Helio Castroneves on a restart. Castroneves blocked, and the loss of momentum allowed third-place Scott Dixon to pass Power. Castroneves was penalized, elevating Power back to second place, but the 10-point difference between a potential win (which went to Dixon) and second place was less than the eventual championship margin. A quiet, consistent, third-place finish for Franchitti.
Franchitti: Qualified second, finished first. Led 29 laps.
Power: Qualified first, finished second. Led 25 laps.
Championship: Power 461, Franchitti 420 (second place)
Franchitti's best road race of the season resulted in a victory that sliced nine points off Power's championship lead.
Franchitti: Qualified third, finished third.
Power: Qualified first, finished first. Led 73 laps.
Championship: Power 514, Franchitti 455 (second place)
Emotionally satisfying win for Power at the site of his back-breaking accident one year earlier. The Australian padded his championship lead to 59 points entering the final four oval races of the season.
Franchitti: Qualified second, finished first. Led 28 laps.
Power: Qualified third, finished 16th. Led 17 laps.
Championship: Power 528, Franchitti 505 (second place)
This was arguably the race in which Franchitti won -- and Power lost -- the championship. Power had just taken the lead prior to the final round of pit stops. Franchitti's crew called for no tires, vaulting him into the race lead. Meanwhile, a fuel rig malfunction meant Power had to come in for an unplanned stop-and-go in the final laps, dropping him to an unrepresentative 16th place at the flag. A critical 36-point swing in Franchitti's favor, and for the rest of the season, it appeared Power was trying not to lose the championship as opposed to trying to win it.
Franchitti: Qualified 11th, finished fifth.
Power: Qualified second, finished eighth. Led 83 laps.
Championship: Power 552, Franchitti 535 (second place)
A bit of a flukey race, dominated by Panther Racing teammates Dan Wheldon and Ed Carpenter but won on a fuel-saving strategy by Castroneves. Power and Franchitti were never contenders for the win, but Franchitti was slightly better on the night and took a critical six points off Power's championship lead.
Franchitti: Qualified fourth, finished second.
Power: Qualified third, finished third.
Championship: Power 587, Franchitti 575 (second place)
Power drove the best oval race of his career and earned his first podium but still finished one position (and five points) behind his championship rival. For his part, Franchitti said that his run to second place under tremendous pressure from Power represented one of the best races of his career.
Franchitti: Qualified first, finished eighth. Led 128 laps.
Power: Qualified third, finished 25th. (Retired -- accident.)
Championship: Franchitti 602, Power 597 (second place)
Team Penske was somewhat mystified by Franchitti's speed as he claimed a dominant pole position and led 128 of the first 150 laps. Power dropped to midfield but worked his way back up to fourth place before brushing the wall at three-quarters distance. With Power out, Franchitti backed off and coasted to an eighth-place finish in a race he easily could have won, but he was lucky not to be taken out when Milka Duno crashed directly in front of him late in the contest.