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RACE, TITLE PERFECT END FOR FRANCHITTI'S RETURN

HOMESTEAD - After a year away, Dario Franchitti is back atop the IndyCar series.

Franchitti, who spent an awful season in NASCAR in 2008, prevailed in one of the closest points races in IRL history Saturday, winning the season-ending Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He used a significantly different fuel strategy than the other two title contenders, teammate Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe, and was rewarded with his second championship in three years.

"I still can't believe it," Franchitti, the husband of actor Ashley Judd, said an hour after the checkered flag. "Really, I can't."

Maybe it was all in the numbers: On the 10th day of the 10th month, Franchitti's No.10 car took a title - and the 10th win this year for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Franchitti was running third, about 25 seconds behind Dixon and Briscoe, and saving fuel over much of the final 50 laps. When his fellow contenders pitted in the final 10 laps for fuel, the title belonged to Franchitti.

Dixon was third in the race and second in points, 11 behind. Race runnerup Briscoe, who led 103 of 200 laps for Penske Racing, was a point behind Dixon.

"It's tough," Briscoe said. "But I'm young. I'll be back."

As for Franchitti's return to IndyCar - and to the top?

"I got to go away, have a bit of a holiday, and realize what I was missing," he said. "I'm absolutely where I should be."

PATRICK BACK?: Danica Patrick offered her strongest hint that she's returning to the series in 2010, saying after finishing 19th: "We know what we need to do, and we'll be ready for next year." Her future (IndyCar or NASCAR?) has been the subject of speculation for months.

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