Franchitti back to defend Indy title this time

The last time Dario Franchitti was the defending IndyCar Series
champion, he was racing on a different circuit.

What followed was Franchitti’s disappointing and abbreviated
foray into NASCAR.

Franchitti returned to open-wheel cars last year and won another
championship, edging defending champion and Target Chip Ganassi
Racing teammate Scott Dixon for the title.

“This was going back to learning something that was instinct
for me,” Franchitti said. “It was all I’d ever really done so it
was a lot easier and I love driving those (open-wheel) cars. I love
the horsepower, grip, the tracks I get to drive on. So it was a
good homecoming.”

So this time, the Scotsman is staying put.

When the IndyCar Series opens its season this weekend in Brazil,
Franchitti will be there in the red-and-white No. 10 Ganassi car
looking to get off to a solid start in defense of his championship.
Sam Hornish Jr., who is now in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, is the
only driver to win back-to-back IRL titles (2001, 2002).

“Being with a great team, it gives us an advantage. It also
gives Scott (Dixon) an advantage,” Franchitti said. “We’ve both
won championships before so we both know what it takes. We can all
do the jobs and it’s up to us to do it. I approach it as each week
we are going to do our best and that’s what we did last year. We’ll
see what happens.”

Franchitti certainly had no problem getting reacclimatized to
the IndyCar Series, winning five races and finishing outside the
top five only four times in the 17 races.

“I’m back doing exactly what I want to do,” said Franchitti,
who won the 2007 Indianapolis 500 during his IRL championship
season for Andretti Green Racing.

When Franchitti’s Sprint Cup team was shut down by Chip Ganassi
only 17 races into the 2008 season because of a lack of
sponsorship, he was 41st in the standings. He had missed five races
because of a broken ankle, didn’t qualify for two and had an
average finish of 39th in the other 10.

Despite his struggles in NASCAR, Franchitti said he benefited
from his stint driving stock cars.

“I definitely learned stuff while driving in NASCAR that took
me out of my comfort zone and that made me a better driver. Did it
make me a quicker driver? I don’t know,” he said. “But it
definitely allowed me to do some stuff that I haven’t been able to
do in the past and deal with different problems with the car. In a
way, it did make me a better driver.”

Sure, Franchitti would have liked to have had the chance to be
in a front-running car and have some Sprint Cup success. But he
believes things “all worked out for the best.”

While Franchitti is solely focused on the IndyCar Series, Danica
Patrick has turned her full attention back to open-wheel cars only
after running the first three NASCAR Nationwide races this
season.

Patrick will concentrate on her IndyCar ride with Andretti for
the next four months before returning to the NASCAR circuit the
last weekend in June. She will then spend the rest of the season
jumping between the drastically different cars, doing the final
nine IRL races while also driving in at least 10 more Nationwide
races.

Franchitti sees Patrick’s NASCAR involvement as a positive for
the IndyCar Series.

“I think it will increase the profile a bit because she has
such big coverage in her stock car races. Not only in the
Nationwide series, but they talk about it during the (Sprint Cup)
broadcasts on Fox,” he said. “I think it’s going to bring fans to
the IndyCar Series, and once they see the racing and all that kind
of stuff, we’ll have some new fans out of it.”

As for IndyCar changes this year, Franchitti is looking forward
to a schedule that includes more road or street courses than ovals
(nine to eight) and getting an opportunity to chat with Randy
Bernard, the league’s new CEO.

Bernard was head of the Professional Bull Riders Inc. the past
15 years, helping grow the TV audience and attendance at
bull-riding events.

“As I understand, I don’t know much about him yet, but he’s a
promoter,” Franchitti said. “That’s a good thing. I think that is
one thing the IndyCar Series would really benefit from.”

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