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Harris: Franchitti Has Quietly Become An All-Timer

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 7 2010

A huge 2010 season by IZOD IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti has tended to get passed over during the year of Jimmie. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It’s time to give Dario Franchitti his due.

Yes, he came up short of establishing a presence in NASCAR a few years ago – mostly because of a lack of sponsorship. But the IZOD IndyCar Series star has been nothing short of sensational in the open-wheel cars for most of the past 11 years.

Somehow, it seems the Scot inevitably winds up in somebody else’s shadow, though.

In 1999, while racing in the now-defunct CART series, Franchitti tied with Juan-Pablo Montoya for the championship. But it was Montoya – now a star in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series – who was awarded the title based on more race wins during the season.

Since he came to America 14 years ago, Franchitti has won 26 races, tying him with the late Rodger Ward for 10th place on the all-time winners list in American open-wheel racing. That puts him just behind Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford, two of the all-time greats and winners of a combined seven Indianapolis 500s – four by Mears and three by Rutherford.

Franchitti is no slouch there, either. His Indy win last May was his second in four years and it ignited a late-season run to his third IndyCar championship and second in a row.

One would think heroics like that would boost Franchitti into the hearts and minds of most

Dario Franchitti has quietly become an all-timer.

race fans. But, during Franchitti’s surge to the top of the IndyCar Series, Jimmie Johnson has been snatching title after title – five in a row in all – over in NASCAR.

This year, it was not only Johnson who stole Franchitti’s thunder, but NHRA graybeard  John Force, who came back from a horrible year in 2009 to win his 15th Funny Car title at the age of 61.

But Franchitti, who drives for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, isn’t being completely ignored.

Sunday at the Autosport Awards in London, Franchitti received the British Competition Driver of the Year award.

Ganassi was also on hand to receive the On Dec. 5, the team owner was presented with the John Bolster Award, named in honor of the magazine’s first technical editor.

His teams pulled off the unprecedented by winning the Daytona 500, the  Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400, as well as winning both the IndyCar and Grand Am Rolex Series championships.

The popular Franchitti definitely belies the old adage about nice guys finish last. He overcame the points advantage of Team Penske’s Will Power in the season finale to claim the championship. He also won the inaugural A.J. Foyt Oval Championship award by totaling the most points in seven oval races during the IndyCar season.

“It’s a great feeling,” Franchitti said. “It’s good to come home and celebrate, to see my friends, colleagues and heroes)…It’s great to have Chip Ganassi here, too.

“It didn’t start off too well with Chip in NASCAR (in 2007). Chip was good enough to invite me to come back to drive in IndyCar, though. I hope I can keep racing for him for a long time to come. I’m more passionate about racing than I ever have been before.”

And, at 37, it appears the speedy Scot is still in the prime of his career.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 7 2010
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