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.”