RICHMOND, Va. - Dario Franchitti learned very early Saturday night that some bold changes made to his car had paid off. At the end, he was almost teasing his challengers, coasting around and saving fuel as they slowly closed in.
Turns out, they never really had a chance.
Franchitti led all but eight laps to set a record for dominance in the IndyCar Series and got help from a late, fuel-saving caution to pull away one last time and give the series points leader his first victory at Richmond International Raceway.
At the start of the SunTrust Indy Challenge, "we didn't know what we had, basically," Franchitti said, because his team had made adjustments on his car after it was slow in practice. "We took off at the start and I was pretty pleased with that."
It was just the beginning.
After losing the lead on a caution, he quickly regained it from Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan on the restart and dominated, leading 242 of 250 laps.
The restart jump told him all he needed to know.
"That's when I really knew the car was exceptional," he said.
Franchitti, whose position in the standings got him the top starting spot when Friday night's qualifying was rained out, won his second race in a row and posted his eighth consecutive top-five finish. He was followed across the finish line by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, and then Kanaan.
It helped Franchitti that Sam Hornish Jr. created a buffer of sorts between him and his closest challengers in the final 80 laps. Hornish had fallen back early in the race and spent the night with a fast car, desperate to recover to the chagrin of Dixon.
"We probably would have had a shot at (Franchitti) if it wasn't for Sam sort of trying to get a lap back when he was three laps down," Dixon said of Hornish, whose speed at the end made him an imposing obstacle to any efforts to catch Franchitti.
"That was the time we needed to get him," Dixon said.
Franchitti said it didn't matter much.
"I haven't thanked him yet," he said of Hornish. "If Scott wants to look at the video, he'll see that Sam gave me a pretty hard time the stint before that, and also toward the end of the race. I don't think Sam was in any way trying to help me out." Besides, he added, "even when Scott did clear Sam, I don't think he was quick enough."
After building a big lead on the restart with 80 laps to go, he said, he was lifting off the throttle on the straightaways with an eye on his shrinking lead.
Once his team said his fuel would last, he pulled away with ease again.
It was the third victory of the season for Franchitti, who set a series record for leading the most laps. He also padded his points lead after the ninth of 17 races.
Dixon is now second in points, 65 behind. Wheldon and Kanaan are 72 back.
The performance of the Target tandem was a positive, Wheldon said, but that had to be tempered by Franchitti's stretching his points advantage.
"At the end of the day, that was the wrong person to win," he said.
Hornish, the defending series champion, is fifth in points. He had a tough night, spinning out just after crossing the start finish line at the start of the race.
He wound up 15th.
"It's not over yet," he said of the championship chase.
Franchitti agreed, saying its way too early to start getting conservative.
"I've just got to continue getting the maximum week in and week out," he said.