Franchitti mulls future with Ganassi, NASCAR
By Jenna Fryer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ó Dario Franchitti isnít sure what his future holds, but the former open-wheel star said Wednesday heíd like to remain in NASCAR.
Franchitti, the 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion, lost his full-time ride Tuesday when team owner Chip Ganassi closed down the unsponsored No. 40 Dodge 17 races into Franchittiís first season. The move also resulted in 71 layoffs.
iThis is not a decision he made lightly, and it shows how bad the economy is,î Franchitti told The Associated Press. iAnd you certainly never want to see all those people lose their jobs. I know Chip struggled with that ó I didnít even recognize his voice when he called me to tell me what he had to do.
iBut the decision has been made, and now Iíll sit with Chip next week and decide what weíre going to do going forward.î
A highly decorated open-wheel racer, Franchitti made the decision to join the growing list of drivers moving to NASCAR at the end of his most successful IRL season. But the adjustment wasnít easy as Franchitti failed to qualify for two races, missed five others with a broken ankle and ranked 41st in the standings headed into this weekendís race at Daytona International Speedway.
Without a sponsor since longtime partner Coors Light decided to leave the team late last year, the on-track performance made it difficult for Ganassi to secure funding for the 35-year-old Scotsman. After paying for Franchittiís car himself for the first six months of the year, Ganassi had to stop or risk it affecting his other two cars driven by Juan Pablo Montoya and Reed Sorenson.
Heís got sponsorship on his Nationwide Series car and has offered Franchitti that seat going forward. Ganassi also has successful teams in the IRL and Grand Am Series.
Franchitti wasnít sure Wednesday what heíll do next.
iLetís see what the future holds. I really just need to sit with Chip and see where his head is,î he said. iBut NASCAR is where I want to be. I want to be successful here and I certainly donít want it to end like this.
iI made a big commitment coming over here and Iíd like to get in an opportunity to be successful.î
Franchitti said heíll skip Saturday nightís race in Daytona and, after briefly considering returning to England to watch the British Grand Prix, decided to stay at his Nashville, Tenn., home this weekend clearing his head.
He doesnít regret leaving the IRL for NASCAR, a move three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. also made this season. That series is on stronger footing following the merger this year with the defunct Champ Car Series, but a return is not appealing to Franchitti even though Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon are dominating the circuit.
iWhen I made the decision to come here, I wasnít going to do the IndyCar thing anymore so this isnít a case of missing out on what could have been in Indy cars,î Franchitti said. iThat just wasnít a direction I wanted to go in. Never say never, but itís unlikely Iíll go back.î
Heís also not sure about moving to Grand-Am, where Ganassi drivers Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett are leading the standings.
For now, heís waiting to see what Ganassi has available for him and is hopeful something can be worked out in NASCAR. Although the results donít show it, Franchitti and his team had made slow progress since he returned from his broken ankle four races ago. He started a career-best seventh last week in New Hampshire, but finished 38th.
iWe definitely struggled the first couple of races, but we were getting there,î Franchitti said. iThe results have been this and that, but we were running well. I really feel like we were getting there. We were starting to run well, me and the 40 guys, we all thought things were turning around.î
iYou look at Michigan, Franchitti started dead last and was as high as 22nd when his engine failed,î Ganassi said. iHe passed all those cars. He drove up to 22nd. He was on it.î
Franchittiís highest finish was 22nd this season at Martinsville before he broke his ankle in a wreck at Talladega. He said he knew coming in that NASCAR is a difficult adjustment ó something teammate Montoya has preached incessantly since his move from Formula One midway through the 2006 season ó and in hindsight Franchitti said he wished heíd done more preseason testing.
He doesnít worry about the affect this rocky road through NASCAR will have on his legacy. Franchitti won a combined 18 races in Champ Car and IndyCar, including his first major championship last season when he edged Dixon for the IndyCar title while driving for Andretti Green Racing.
In January, he was part of the winning team in the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race ó a victory that put him alongside Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win the Indy 500, the IndyCar title, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Rolex 24.
iI donít care (about his legacy),î he said. iI would prefer the chance. I want the chance to go out there and show what I can do and prove that I can do the job.î