2007: Dixon and Dario Duel

By Tony Donohue
August 25, 2022
PHOTO COURTESY OF INDYCAR

After securing his 53rd win and surviving the chaos that was Nashville, I asked Scott Dixon about being 6 points back of the points leader Will Power. He told me “I think more about the ones we lost, I lost 76 points to Marcus (at the Indy 500). It sucks but nothing we can do.”

After an 8th place finish at Gateway, Dixon now sits 3rd in points, just 14 back of the lead in search of his 7th championship.

So, I thought to myself, I wonder if he also thinks about the championships that got away, specifically the end of the 2007 IndyCar Season. 07 was a battle between future teammates, Dixon and Dario Franchitti. Franchitti was running for Andretti Green Racing at the time and was coming off an underwhelming 2006 season that produced just two podium finishes. The 2007 season was wide open. Sam Hornish Jr. Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves headlined the battle for the championship all season.

It was a delayed start to the season at Homestead Miami Speedway. Dan Wheldon, Dixons teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing dominated the night, leading 179 of the 200 laps, winning by over four seconds. For the fourth consecutive season, Wheldon started the year off with a victory. Franchitti finished 7th.

The second round of the championship featured the streets of St. Pete. Dixon, who still has yet to win at St. Pete finished second to Helio Castroneves. A late race charge left Dixon about a lap short of having a chance to pass Castroneves for the win. Dixon would leave Florida as the points leader. Franchitti would keep pace with a 5th place showing but sat 6th in points.

The next stop came across the pond in Motegi, Japan. In the closing laps, Dixon was leading with 5 laps to go before he had to pit for fuel. Tony Kanaan won his first race of the season after spending less time on pit road during the final stop. Dixon, who started 6th, would manage a 4th place result with Franchitti edging him late to finish 3rd. Dixon would lose the points lead to Wheldon.

It was on to Kansas next where Dixon would again lose ground to teammate Wheldon and Franchitti. Kansas showed the competition level in 2007 as Wheldon won a green flag dominated event with Franchitti finishing 2nd before the series turned its attention to the Indy 500. Similar to 2022, Dixon was off to a blistering start to the season, but hadn’t found victory circle while another driver had won twice to take the points lead.

At Indy, Dixon and Dario battled inside the Top 5 all day as Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish dominated early. With inclement weather lurking, the red flag was displayed with 113 laps complete and Tony Kanaan leading. Franchitti was 5th with Dixon in 8th. After a two and a half hour delay, cars returned to the track for the restart. Kanaan dominated until a restart with 44 laps to go saw TK spin with Franchitti first and Dixon running second. More severe weather was just miles away when the green flag flew for a restart with 39 laps to go. A massive crash involving Marco Andretti brought out the final yellow of the day as strong rain showers covered the 2.5 mile oval. Franchitti would win his first Indy 500 with Scott Dixon finishing second.

The next four races is where Dario Franchitti went on a roll. At Milwaukee, the defending Indy 500 winner scored a second place finish, backed up by a 4th followed by back to back wins on short ovals at Iowa and Richmond. Heading into Watkins Glen, Dario Franchitti led the points by 65 over Scott Dixon and 72 over both Wheldon and Kanaan. Franchitti had a stranglehold on the 07 championship.

That’s when Scott Dixon went Scott Dixon. He dominated at Watkins Glen winning by six seconds over Sam Hornish Jr. Dario managed a 3rd place finish to hold on to the points lead. The next round saw Dixon dominate at Nashville, leading 105 of the 200 laps with Franchitti coming home second. Dixon would win an impressive third race in a row at Mid-Ohio, but again, Franchitti kept pace by finishing runner up. After three straight wins for Dixon, Franchitti still had a 24 point lead heading into what turned out to be a wet and wild Michigan 400.

Franchitti secured the pole position and led the first several laps before a yellow on lap 45 brought the leaders down pit road. Franchitti had a mistake in the pits, shuffling him back to the 17th position while Dixon inherited the lead. It took Franchitti just 10 laps to charge to the 2nd place position with a three wide pass of Dan Wheldon and Tomas Scheckter. Dixon, Scheckter, Wheldon and Franchitti would battle for the race lead for the next 85 plus laps. But on lap 143, Franchitti made contact with Wheldon battling for the lead, sending Franchitti’s #27 Honda straight into the air with the nose cone pointing straight down. As Franchitti landed, Scott Dixon smashed into him resulting in maylay of crashed cars. Franchitti landed upside down but was unhurt in the wreck. Six cars were collected.

With just four races to go, it seemed that Scott Dixon was doing everything he needed to do to win the championship, only to have those moves countered by Franchitti. Kentucky Speedway saw Franchitti again fly through the air in a crash that occurred after the checkered flag had flown. Dixon would finish runner up with Franchitti collecting an 18th place finish. This cut the points lead to just 8.

The series went West to Sonoma. Dixon, once again doing everything he needed to do to win the championship, wins the race to collect his 4th win on the year. Franchitti managed a 3rd place finish despite contact with Andretti-Green teammate Marco Andretti, igniting a feud within the team. Dixon would gain the points championship lead by 1 point as Franchitti led the most laps that day.

As the series returned to Detroit for the first time in six years, Dixon and Dario battled in the top 5 throughout the day. On the final lap of the race, with Dixon third and Franchitti fourth, Dixon made a move to get second from Buddy Rice, the two tangled, sending Rice into the tires. Dixon attempted to save the car, spun without contact and rolled back across the track collecting Franchitti. Owner Michael Andretti and the entire Andretti Green team accused Dixon of intentionally backing into Franchitti so he wouldn’t finish second. This set up one of the best championship finales in IndyCar history.

Franchitti took a 3 point advantage into the 16th and final race of the 2007 season. The championship winner would come down to the driver that could finish the highest over 300 miles at Chicagoland. To further add to distractions, rumors of Franchitti leaving Andretti Green for Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR program grew louder as both Chip Ganassi and Dario Franchitti refused to comment. Franchitti qualified on pole with Dixon rolling off 6th. Dixon cycled to second during the first round of stops, Franchitti would fall to 5th. The two would battle inside the top 5 for the next 100 laps or so. With 145 laps complete, Dixon went into fuel conservation mode, trying to make it to lap 200 without pitting. On lap 150, right before the green flag, both Dixon and Franchitti topped off for fuel. Dixon, with 50 to go, was the points leader by 7.

Dixon led the field when the race went green on lap 151 with Franchitti in second. With 25 to go, Dixon ran 2nd with Franchitti dropping back to 5th. Dixon’s teammate Dan Wheldon was protecting Dixon by running closely behind in 3rd. With 15 laps remaining, leader Sam Hornish Jr. pitted for fuel. Dixon would take over the race lead with Wheldon 2nd and Franchitti 3rd. Dixon now leading, Franchitti was able to tuck behind Wheldon to save fuel. With 10 to go, Wheldon and Dixon would swap the lead, giving Dixon an opportunity to save fuel and make it the distance. With just 7 to go, Wheldon ran out of fuel giving the lead to Dixon and 2nd place to Franchitti.

Lap 195, Danica Patrick spins coming into the pits to bring the yellow flag out. With no damage on the car, this would set up a 3 lap shootout, seemingly allowing both Franchitti and Dixon to make it on fuel. With two laps to go the green flag flew with Franchitti making a move on Dixon for the lead. Dixon took the white flag with Franchitti on his back wing. As the two drivers entered turn 3 nose to tail, Dixons car darted high and slowed and was out of fuel. Franchitti would pass to win the race and the championship. It was Franchitti’s first IndyCar Championship. If the fuel would have held for 400 more yards, we might be talking about Dixon gunning for championship number 8 here in 2022.

He’s one of the greatest drivers of all time, and to knit pick his career is difficult to do. A 7th championship won’t define his incredible career, he has nothing to prove to anyway, if he ever did. If anyone can overcome a major penalty in the biggest races that awards the most points, Scott Dixon is the driver to do it. With two races to go in the championship, Dixon will look to be the second driver with 7 championships to run for owner Chip Ganassi this year.

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