Race Day: Franchitti Adds To Laps Led Stat At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 25 2014

Dario Franchitti, winner of three Indy 500s, will not win a fourth but is still enjoying being around the Speedway. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin and Mike Harris | Senior Writers

INDIANAPOLIS – There won’t be a fourth Indianapolis 500 victory on Dario Franchitti’s racing resume, but the popular Scotsman led a few more laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today.

Franchitti came out of his injury-induced retirement to drive the Camaro Z/28 Pace Car, as well as spend the day with his parents and former teammates at Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Still, the race’s traditional Flying Start was foremost on Franchitti’s to-do list leading to the 98th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“Yes. I just don’t want to mess it up,” Franchitti said, “because there’s 33 of my contemporaries back there who it’s the most important day of the year certainly and a lot of their life. So I don’t want to do something stupid that’s going to, you know, mess it up for anybody. But I joked with Will Power about brake-checking him on one of the laps.”

Franchitti, who won three of his four Verizon IndyCar Series champions driving for car-owner Chip Ganassi, forged a fierce rivalry with road-racing ace Power of Team Penske.

Franchitti shocked the motorsports world last November, announcing his retirement due to injuries suffered in the second of two races on the Streets of Houston in October. Franchitti was advised by his doctors to retire after suffering a concussion, two spinal fractures and broken right ankle that required surgery.

“It’s going to be interesting to be on the grid,” said Franchitti, admitting he had no idea how he would feel as a civilian. “I think it’s going to be difficult. The rest of the month has been great because I’m fairly at peace with the fact I’m not in the car. I also realize that I’m not sure I would have the commitment level anymore to do what’s required here, or any track.

“You know it’s a certain mindset you’ve got to have; the crazy things that you saw the guys do on the Fast Nine (qualifying session) last Sunday is normal for drivers. And it doesn’t feel normal for me anymore, therefore I shouldn’t be a driver anymore.”

Franchitti’s seat in the No. 10 Target Dallara/Chevrolet has been filled by Tony Kanaan, who won the Indy 500 last May while driving for KV Racing Technology.

“Dario, he’s a coach, man,” Kanaan said. “Dario’s working with the team, actually very close to me. He’s helping all four (Ganassi) drivers as coach. He’s helped me a lot as far as getting adapted to the team as well with the guys and the tradition.

“It (Dario’s retirement) was tough on the guys. The No. 10 car guys were Dario’s guys. And when he was forced to retire, for me to step into his house, it’s a big shoe to fill. So I’m trying to bond as much as I can. One day I told them I’m never going to be Dario, I’ll be Tony, and we’ll go win races as well. And Dario helped me with that transition.”

Franchitti said he logged “a bunch of laps” getting acclimated to the Camaro, including three with his parents. “My mom was having a great time,” said Dario, noting this was her first visit to IMS. “I think my dad was close to his threshold of what he wanted to experience on the second lap. He was quite happy, so that was great.”

When pressed, Franchitti said his top practice speed was 170 mph heading into Turn 3. “Yeah, that was the top speed, not the average speed,” Franchitti said. “Trust me, in the corner, about 120. (At) 130 it’s getting interesting. At 120 the thing just sits down. It’s a great car. It handles so well. I always thought ‘Muscle Cars’ didn’t handle well; this thing handles. And it stops as well.”

Franchitti was joined for the Parade and Pace Laps by an INDYCAR official who handled radio communication as the field reached full-song.

“And then there’s me just having a good time in the driver’s seat,” Franchitti said. “He’s going to be, ‘OK, slow down. OK, slow down. OK, you have to pull off now.’ And I’ll say, ‘You have to pull off now?’ That’s going to be an argument that lap when he tells me to pull off.”

They led the 33-car field out of the fourth turn, then pulled onto pit lane, watching from the sidelines as the serious racing began.

“It’s a little weird to be here and not be stressed out, focused and ready to get in the race,’’ Franchitti said earlier in the day.

“I was back in the Target trucks with Tony (Kanaan), Scott (Dixon), Ryan (Briscoe) and Charlie (Kimball) and they are really focused and I was sitting there quite relaxed. It’s very bittersweet.

“It’s lovely to be here and experience what the fans experience. It’s amazing. It’s not the same as driving, but it is amazing.’’

For the final time, Jim Nabors belted out “Back Home Again in Indiana” moments before the race’s Flying Start. “There’s a time in life when you have to move on,” said Nabors, who has missed only a handful of races at IMS since 1972. “I’ll be 84 this year and I just figured it was time. It’s kind of hard to travel and there’s just a bunch of reasons. This is really the highlight of my year. It’s very sad for me but there’s something inside me that tells me when to go.

“When it started, I would have never dreamed I’d still be doing this 42 years later. I didn’t even know I’d do it the first time. I thought I was going to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When I got over to meet the conductor I said, ‘What key are you guys doing this in?’ He looked at me and said, ‘We only have one key.’ I said, ‘No, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has two keys.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re not singing that.’ I said, ‘What the hell am I singing?’ It was only five minutes before race-time. I’d never seen that many people before in my life and I said, ‘What am I singing?’ He said, ‘You’re singing the traditional song that opens the race,’ (“Back Home Again in Indiana.”) I looked at him and I said, ‘I’m from Alabama. Do you still want me to do it?’

“I feel very grateful and I’ve been totally blessed in my life with getting to do things like this, and getting to know all the people that I’ve known and become friends with.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 25 2014
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