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Publication: NASCAR News
Franchitti Committed to Learning

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         NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, December 20, 2007
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Franchitti committed to learning, succeeding in Cup
Will race first five Nationwide races to get more seat time
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM

How committed 2007 IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti 
is to his newly-minted NASCAR career was obvious at the 
end of last season, after the most recent Indianapolis 500 
winner's sixth career stock car race had ended. 

"I'm in a funny position," Franchitti said in the darkness 
of Homestead-Miami Speedway's Busch Series garage. "Because 
I'm sitting here with a car that's destroyed, but I see a 
lot of positives out of the day because I feel so much more 
comfortable in what I'm doing. 

It was no less than the fifth time Franchitti had been 
involved in a wreck in a stock car event but his focus was 
unwavering -- and it's that pluck and desire that should 
endear Franchitti, 34, to many NASCAR, and Automobile 
Racing Club of America fans in 2008. 

And they'll get plenty of chances to see the Scotsman, 
beginning at Speedweeks 2008 at Daytona International 
Speedway, when Franchitti will overdose on three divisions' 
worth of practice, qualifying and, he hopes, racing in the 
Daytona ARCA 200 as well as the Nationwide and Sprint Cup 
Series' openers. 

Franchitti plans to spend the holidays in his American 
home, near Nashville, Tenn., before his racing schedule 
heats up. 

He'll team with Montoya for a shot at defending Ganassi's 
two consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car victories, 
in a test on Jan. 4-5; before he does a day of COT testing 
at the New Smyrna Speedway short track near Daytona Beach, 
Fla. 

The next week he has some sponsor commitments and will 
receive some other open-wheel awards before he hits Daytona 
for his first Daytona Cup test, Jan. 14-16; followed by the 
Daytona Nationwide test, Jan. 18-20. 

The roll from January to February will be intense, with 
the Rolex 24 scheduled Jan. 24-27 followed by Las Vegas 
Motor Speedway's Sprint Cup test Jan. 28-29; and then a 
Nationwide test at Vegas Jan. 30-31, which overlaps a 
Sprint Cup session at California Speedway, Jan. 31 and 
Feb. 1. 

From there Franchitti will travel home, then to Daytona 
for the 11 days of Speedweeks, from Feb. 7-17. 

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As if that schedule wasn't proof enough, Franchitti's 
commitment, and that of his Chip Ganassi Racing team, was 
borne out by the fact, as he said; that he was less than 
20 feet away from a badly mangled Dodge Charger Busch 
Series car when he spoke of his progress, and his hopes. 

Franchitti said the progress he'd made in his six starts 
and the 929 laps he'd run (of a possible total of 1,150, 
an 81 percent completion ratio) was noticeable that 
Saturday evening in South Florida, and pointed out how 
far he and veteran crew chief Brian Pattie had come in 
little more than a month. 

"We're making progress [because] Brian and I are just 
getting to know each other," Franchitti said. "It's a 
difficult job for him because I'm sometimes trying to 
make him feel like I'm in an IndyCar and it's going to 
be comfortable like an IndyCar -- and it's not going to 
be like that. 

"So today was the first time I felt like I was able to 
help him give me a car that just drove well -- and not 
only drove well, but was fast. I was searching about for 
grip, and I could run the low line but I didn't like that, 
so I could move up to the wall. 

Franchitti's honesty is one thing that's certain to make 
him a favorite of his crew. He's already done that by going 
out of his way to communicate his thanks to them for their 
effort. 

"I think I made a mistake," Franchitti said at Homestead. 
"The guys were saying a tire might've gone down, but I 
don't know -- I don't know what a tire going down feels 
like. 

"So I think I made a mistake, and I'm very frustrated with 
that. Because today was the first time, in race trim, 
except for Memphis, but certainly on a one-and-a-half-mile 
track that I've felt very comfortable and was passing guys."

Franchitti's eyes simply got wide that night in Homestead 
when a reporter told him that Ganassi Racing's managing 
director John Fernandez had mentioned the weekend before, 
at Phoenix International Raceway, that Franchitti might do 
the "Daytona triple." 

To Fernandez, it's a simple equation. 

"We're going to get him as much seat time in a COT as we 
can in the offseason, but he'll start the [2008] season 
doing both [Nationwide] and Cup," Fernandez said. 
"There's still that problem of the transference from the 
[Nationwide] car to the COT, but it's more important to 
get him seat time at some of these tracks so he can learn 
the tracks." 

A team spokesman said Franchitti, whose Nationwide program 
will be backed by Fastenal, a new sponsor to the series 
that has previously been in the Truck Series, will more 
than likely run at least the season's first five Nationwide 
races before splitting time with Cup teammate Reed Sorenson 
and possibly CGR development driver Bryan Clauson. 

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Franchitti agrees it's probably the best thing he could do 
as his new career path plows ahead. So far, the reality of 
it has been nearly mind-boggling and Franchitti said he has 
the perfect comparison to draw. 

"I'd been talking about wanting a challenge, but I didn't 
realize how big a challenge it was," Franchitti said. "I'd 
been watching Sam [Hornish Jr.] this year in some of his 
Busch races -- and I know how good of a driver Sam Hornish 
is -- and thinking, 'man, he's struggling!' 

"Well, I know where he's coming from, now." 

Franchitti's schedule over the two "offseason" months 
of December and January is the proof of what he and his 
organization are trying to accomplish. He began his 
"vacation" with a trip home to Scotland, where he was 
feted at four different events with a half-dozen 
prestigious Scottish and English motorsports awards for 
his IndyCar exploits. 

And while his initial indoctrination to stock cars was not 
as intense as his CGR teammate and fellow former open-
wheel standout Juan Montoya's was in the fall of 2006, 
Franchitti's been in stock cars plenty. 

Montoya was in a stock car twice as much as he was out 
of one following his first outing, in an ARCA test at 
Talladega in September 2006. Franchitti had a day's 
testing for his Craftsman Truck Series and Busch Series 
debuts, at Martinsville and Memphis, respectively. 

Beginning with his Busch debut at Memphis at the end of 
October he was in a car part of every week through the 
end of the season, also racing Busch Series events at 
Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. 

While Franchitti won't make his official Sprint Cup debut 
until the opening of practice for the 50th Daytona 500 in 
February, he's already done a pair of two-day Cup tests in 
the Car of Tomorrow that will be Sprint Cup's sole weapon, 
next season. 

Franchitti joined the two-day COT test at Atlanta Motor 
Speedway following the Nextel Cup weekend there at the end 
of October. Earlier in December, he did a two-day test at 
Nashville Superspeedway with the No. 40 Cup team led by 
crew chief Steve Lane that he'll race with in 2008. 

Franchitti was actually entered in the Nextel Cup races at 
Phoenix and Homestead, but the entries were withdrawn well 
before the race weekends. Fernandez said the entries were 
tendered to "cover our bases" as Franchitti's development 
program unfolded. 

"What we did with [Franchitti] in the beginning was just 
like what we did with Juan," Fernandez said. "We knew that 
it was going to take some time for [Franchitti] to get 
comfortable with the cars. He was trying to do an ARCA car 
and then a Busch car and then a COT car. 

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"If he had felt comfortable enough to get in the car, we 
would have put him in the [Cup] car [at Phoenix]. But he's 
on a big learning curve, so we said 'let's just do the 
Busch race for now.'" 

Franchitti spent last Friday at Daytona testing an ARCA 
Dodge Charger with Pattie, who oversaw his six 2007 starts 
and who'll also marshal his 2008 ARCA 200 effort at 
Speedweeks, and in the one-day test recorded the 23rd best 
single-car speed. 

All the laps are a good thing, considering Franchitti 
crashed almost twice as much as he finished races in his 
first six outings. But the bright spots far outnumbered 
the bleak ones. 

He qualified sixth at Talladega and averaged a 12th-place 
starting position in his four Busch races, including a 
third place at his first short track, Memphis. He ran in 
the top 15 for the first two-thirds of the race before his 
car's brakes faded, leading to a crash. 

"I'm excited about getting a lot of seat time in the COT, 
and also in the Nationwide car," Franchitti said. "I have 
to get a lot of seat time, I think. It's going to be a 
busy year next year between testing and racing in both 
series, but it's going to be cool, though. 

"The last time I raced that much was when I was in go-
karts, as a kid, but it's a good thing. I haven't done a 
Cup race yet, but the ARCA race and the Truck race and 
the Busch races -- they're fun. 

"It's a really enjoyable type of racing. Juan [Montoya] 
told me that when I came over -- he said, 'you're going 
to love the racing.' At Memphis I enjoyed it and I was 
[enjoying Homestead] because we were on pace. 

"Phoenix and Texas were tough because we really weren't 
quick enough. So [Homestead] was the first time I got a 
taste of how that could be -- and it's going to be fun." 

Franchitti's best finish is 17th at Talladega. His best 
NASCAR finish came at Texas, where he was 25th, though 
three laps down to winner Kevin Harvick. 

Franchitti, who raced with a roof early in his career when 
he did a couple seasons in the German Touring Car Series, 
only sat in an American stock car for the first time on 
October 2 -- the day before he was announced as a Ganassi 
driver. 

He said he's well aware of what he's in for. 

"I know it is going to be busy [but] I'm here -- I am here 
for the long term," Franchitti said. "I am here to learn, 
first of all and to do the job that I am here to do. 

"It's going to be tough. I'm under no illusions here. This 
is probably going to be the toughest challenge in my career 
and it's partly the reason I did it. It's going to be a 
very steep learning curve. I hope I'm up for the job. 

"As far as making friends, I'm going to see the guys and 
talk to them. I know some of the guys a little bit. I'm 
looking forward to meeting these guys I watch so much on 
TV and have such a respect for. I'm looking forward to that 
and getting out there and racing with them as well." 

In general, Franchitti said he's still at the stage of his 
development in which he has to determine if his driving 
style is creating the car's handling characteristics, or 
if the car's set-up is. 

"It's interesting," Franchitti said. "I can't emphasize how 
different [from Indy cars] it really is; how you have to 
carry that momentum through the corners [in a stock car], 
but the car sometimes doesn't want to let you." 

As Montoya did before him, Fernandez said Franchitti will 
have to work on learning "different habits" than what he 
was used to in open-wheel cars, in which Franchitti made 
180 starts between CART and the IndyCar Series, with 18 
wins, 17 pole positions, 63 top-five finishes and 95 
top-10s. 

"When you're driving an open-wheel car for so long, it's a 
different type of car, it's got way more downforce and a 
lot more grip," Fernandez said. "The speeds are the same, 
but the way in which you drive the cars is a little bit 
different, so it's not a matter of bad habits, it's a 
matter of different habits." 

And Franchitti said his wife, actress Ashley Judd, said 
there's one habit Franchitti may also be able to alter, 
after he made the decision to move to NASCAR. 

"Ashley turned to me," Franchitti said, "and said 'now 
that you are doing this next year do we have to watch it 
on TV quite so much?'" 

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