Franchitti cements place in IndyCar history Print
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Wednesday, 13 October 2010 08:31
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 Dario Franchitti hears the list of names and it still doesn't sound right: Foyt, Meyer, Shaw, Ward and ... Franchitti?
``I hear that kind of list and I hear these legends of the sport, and I don't feel part of that group, you know what I mean?'' he said this week during a teleconference.
Franchitti can be humble all he likes. After winning the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series championship in the same season for the second time, there's no doubt he's on that list of all-time greats.
A record-tying three IndyCar titles, including the past two, and two Indianapolis 500s show that Franchitti does indeed belong up there with the likes of A.J. Foyt, Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw and Rodger Ward - the only other drivers to pull off the Indy 500-season title double twice in his career.
He's not flashy, he's not one of those wow-he's-fast drivers, just the best all-around driver on the circuit, equally adept at winding through road courses or running all out on the ovals.
``Dario isn't the impresario that (Alex) Zanardi was, or he's not somebody that is referred to as blindingly fast like (Juan Pablo) Montoya was when he was in IndyCar,'' owner Chip Ganassi said. ``But he's always one of these guys that he's always there when it counts.''
The past two seasons, that's meant being within reach of the IndyCar Series title.
Last year, coming off an aborted NASCAR run, Franchitti was third in points heading into the season finale at Homestead and walked away with the title after gambling on pit strategy to leapfrog teammate Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe.
Will Power led the points all season this year, only to have Franchitti start growing in his mirror with each race down the stretch.
Nearly 60 points behind after Sonoma, Franchitti whittled away at Power's lead over the final four races, pulling within 11 points. He ended up capturing the pole at Homestead, led the most laps, then downshifted into preservation mode after Power labored in his scramble to catch up.
When it was over, Franchitti became the first driver to win consecutive titles since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and 2002, and had won the last three IndyCar seasons he's entered.
``From 2007, it's all just clicked,'' Franchitti said. ``I think when you figure out how to win one of these things, you've kind of got that knowledge to fall back on.''
It wasn't a bad 2010 for Franchitti's owner, either.
Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 on the NASCAR side, and Franchitti's win at Indy made Ganassi the first owner to win all three races in the same season. His team also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
OK, so maybe it was tough in terms of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship - his drivers were 15th and 16th - but it's hard to complain too much after a year like this.
``I could sit there and nitpick little things and reasons, but the fact of the matter is it's been a great year,'' he said. ``It would be very hard to have anything that will turn it into a not so good year. Practically nothing can happen to turn it into a bad year.''
Especially when he has a driver like Franchitti in the garage.
The 37-year-old Scotsman has reached the peak of his powers, a tactician who can match road-course specialists such as Power turn-for-turn or switch to an oval and keep hard-chargers like Helio Castroneves at bay.
Calm and always cool under pressure, Franchitti doesn't make mistakes, simply waits in the rearview lurking, ready to pounce when someone else does.
He's one of just 10 drivers to win three or more open-wheel championships, trailing only Sebastien Bourdais (four CART/Champ Car crowns), Mario Andretti (three USAC, one CART) and Foyt (seven USAC titles). By backing up his 2007 Indy 500 victory with a win this year, he's also one of 17 drivers to win open-wheel racing's biggest race more than once.
Franchitti seems to be getting better with age, too, so he could be moving up both lists, which would put him on an even shorter one: list of top drivers of all time - whether he likes it or not.
``I'm very proud of my achievements winning the three championships and the two Indianapolis 500s,'' Franchitti said. ``But I kind of look on those guys as, I don't feel part of that. I just feel I'm a driver who has been lucky enough to drive some great equipment and gotten the job done. But it's a privilege to be mentioned in the same kind of sentences as those guys.''
Foyt, Unser, Mears, Franchitti - sounds about right.


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