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The legend grows

by
Chris Estrada
| May 28, 2012

Don’t dwell on the past. Keep looking to the future.
 
Such is the philosophy of Dario Franchitti, even as he continues to collect what’s becoming a vault full of trophies and accolades. As long as he feels up to the challenge of driving an IndyCar, there will be more of them to chase, so why focus on the ones he’s already earned?
 
However, one day, he’ll have to stop and take in the enormity of what he’s done: 31 victories (so far). Four IZOD IndyCar Series championships, three of them in back-to-back-to-back years. Successfully following in the footsteps of his heroes and fellow Scotsmen, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark.
 
And now, being one of just 10 people on Earth to win its most important race at least three times.
 
But in Franchitti’s mind, that day won’t come until after he hangs up his helmet and fire suit for good.

“I'm very proud - and I've said this before - of the achievements, whether it's Indy wins, championships, every one of the race wins,” the 39-year-old said after winning the 96th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on Sunday. “Sometimes, I look back, but generally I'm trying to look forward.

“When I retire, that's the time to look back and hang out with my friends here, hang over the fence, shout abuse at [Scott Dixon], Will [Power], Tony [Kanaan], all the guys that are still racing.”

On Sunday, Franchitti showed them – and everyone else – that he has plenty more to do before taking the checkered flag on his career.

Starting in 16th position, he faced early adversity when he was spun out from behind by E.J. Viso on pit road during the first caution period of the day. After finally being able to receive service from his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, Franchitti found himself in 28th place.

But faced with a massive mountain to climb, Franchitti, the quintessential veteran, was unfazed. So were his team owner, Chip Ganassi, or Ganassi's right-hand man, TCGR managing director Mike Hull.

For a long time, they’ve known and seen what Franchitti is capable of.

“[Franchitti’s] been through a lot of the changes in the sport -- different cars, different tires, different engines, different series, different this, different that,” said Ganassi. “He's the kind of guy you'd like to have, because he's sort of been there, done that.”

“In Dario's case, we have a guy that hasn't reached his midlife crisis yet, that drives with the experience of his age, but he comes to work every day with the enthusiasm and the intent of an 18-year-old,” said Hull. “That's a pretty tough combination to beat.”

So the climb began as Franchitti, taking advantage of an improved Honda motor in both power and fuel mileage, peeled off spot after spot on the track. With his second pit stop going into the books at Lap 48, he was in 10th position. And as Marco Andretti dominated the first half of the race, Franchitti was gradually making his move toward the front.

In pressure-packed situations, the clutch competitors always rise to meet the challenge. So it went again at Indianapolis, with Franchitti and teammate Scott Dixon leading the way as the race went into its final stages.

A surge from Tony Kanaan on a Lap 187 saw him sneak by Franchitti on the inside to take the lead moments before Andretti’s day ended with a crash against the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier. But with the leader often being ripe for the picking thanks to the Dallara DW12’s drafting, Franchitti returned the favor when the green flag returned with six laps left.

It looked as if it was just a matter of which Ganassi driver would win the day – until Takuma Sato made a final bid for his own immortality.

The aggressive Sato got by Dixon in Turn 1 with two to go and after sucking up to Franchitti down the front stretch, he attempted the same inside pass in the same place on the final lap.

“My plan from that point was -- deep gulp --- I knew I had to go around the outside of [Turn] One wide open, up towards the gray, to stand a chance of winning,” said Franchitti. “Takuma, he lost the rear. I watched the replay on the TV. He lost the rear on the way in. I felt the hit. The car got sideways.

“I kept my foot in, and that was it.”

For Sato, the all-or-nothing gamble went snake-eyes. For Franchitti, it was the jackpot.

Not that he expected such a thing when ‘500’ practice began earlier this month.

“I don't come in here with any expectations for the race,” said Franchitti. “I work on my car during practice. Scott and I work together very tightly with the Target team. We try to get the fastest, best car we can to go racing. I don't have any expectations. I just go out and do the best job I can.

“I don't go into it thinking, ‘I'm going to win this one.’ You've got to let the race come to you. That's what I do.”

One day, it’ll all be over and Dario Franchitti will have no choice but to look back instead of forward. What will his memories of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 look like to him at that point? It will surely all mean a lot: A stellar rally, a close call with Sato, and a victory for his dear friend, the late Dan Wheldon.

But that’s something for Franchitti to ponder at another time.

He’s got more history to make.

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Chris Estrada maintains IndyRacingRevolution.com and has covered sports at all levels for multiple print and digital outlets. He has written for INDYCAR Nation since 2011 and can be reached via e-mail (estrada.christopher1@gmail.com) and on Twitter (@estradawriting).

2 Comments

  1. 1 mike n 09 Jun

    I have to agree with dave g. Oh boy another boring season with Mr. Judd !! It's funny how the team became fast again after the first few races. Indycar is trying to build a hero out of one of the biggest cry babies in open wheel racing! I miss the real drive anything, anywhere racers, and I need not name them. It was great to watch them drive Daytona and Indy in the same year and be a threat to win both. We've seen Mr. Judd's attempt at NASCAR and you Sir are no FOYT,ANDRETTI,UNSER,RUTHERFORD,ETC,!!!!! 

     

  2. 2 dave g. 31 May

    It was so nice how he pushed sato below the white line and take him out.Way to go dario.And he is one of the biggest whiners of blocking.

     

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