JOLIET, Ill. – A strategy gamble put Dario Franchitti in position to win. And thanks to an uncharacteristic pit stop blunder by Team Penske for points leader Will Power, Franchitti still has a chance at the championship.
Franchitti's crew saved time on their final pit stop by choosing not to change tires, putting him out in front for a late-race restart. The driver did the rest, holding on to win Saturday's IndyCar series race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Power still had a shot at the win — until he started running out of fuel with five laps to go and had to make an extra pit stop. He finished 16th, opening the door for Franchitti in the championship race.
"It's going to be a fight," Franchitti said. "I think it's going to be a fight to the wire."
Power came into Chicagoland leading by 59 points with four races to go. Going into next Saturday's race at Kentucky Speedway, Franchitti has whittled Power's lead to 23 points.
"It's going to be interesting, these last three," Franchitti said.
Dan Wheldon finished second, followed by Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan.
Danica Patrick finished 14th.
Power's crew apparently didn't get enough fuel in the car to make it to the end of the race during their last scheduled pit stop. It almost certainly cost them a top-three finish, and now his team has to hope it doesn't end up costing them the championship.
"That was just a mistake that we couldn't afford," Power said. "This obviously makes things tougher for the championship, but we're still in front and we proved how competitive we can be on the ovals. We'll move on and we will work harder next week at Kentucky."
Beginning with Chicagoland, the final four races of the season all are on oval tracks, and Power is considered a stronger driver on road courses than he is on ovals.
So he was encouraged by his strong driving performance on Saturday, even if it didn't get him a good finish.
"I never thought I could race ovals like that," Power said in a postrace television interview.
But when it comes to racing on ovals, Power might still have some respect to earn among fellow drivers. Wheldon admitted he spent more time working with Franchitti because the veteran was more predictable in the pack.
"It was difficult to drive with Will," Wheldon said. "He was not giving me any room at all."
Franchitti appreciated Wheldon's help.
"Dan was great," Franchitti said. "Just pushed me along a little bit."
Power hardly was racing conservatively to protect his points lead, going three-wide for the lead with Wheldon and Andretti with about 50 laps to go.
With Power in the lead and Andretti stuck to his rear wing, Alex Lloyd spun out with 31 laps to go, bringing out a caution. That allowed all the leaders to make their final pit stop.
Franchitti's crew gambled by only taking fuel and opting not to change tires, gaining eight spots in the pits and sending him out in the race lead. Franchitti didn't know what his crew had planned when he went on to pit road, and said his crew didn't make the call until he was a few pit stalls from stopping.
Power had a quick stop, but his crew knew right away that they might not have put enough fuel in the car to make it the rest of the way. Now Franchitti senses he has a shot at the title.
"It's far from over," Franchitti said.
Patrick was one of five female drivers in the race.
"I just didn't have enough speed to stay with the lead pack," Patrick said. "It's tough to end the event like this because we were really competitive and I thought we'd have more out there tonight."
It was a strong outing for Sarah Fisher, who briefly led near the race's halfway point and was able to hang in the top five for several laps — something Franchitti's crew might have noted before they decided to stay out on old tires. She slipped back in the pack when she had to make a pit stop on lap 113 and finished 15th.
Milka Duno finished 19th, Simona de Silvestro finished 23rd and Ana Beatriz finished 24th.