FRANCHITTI HUMBLED TO BE IN 'STRANGE COMPANY'
Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com
Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais – tied with 31 victories on the all-time Indy car racing list -- are the next marks for Dario Franchitti, though the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver doesn’t necessarily contemplate such laurels.
It’s select company – surpassing Tommy Milton, Bobby Rahal, Ralph DePalma, Gordon Johncock, Rodger Ward and Johnny Rutherford over the past 55 weeks – and the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion can’t fathom himself in the room. On June 19 in the Milwaukee 225, Franchitti tied four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears for ninth on the leaderboard with 29 wins.
“When someone said, ‘You tied Johnny Rutherford,’ I couldn’t put I couldn’t put into words what it meant,” said Franchitti, who at Milwaukee also recorded his 80th career podium and 100th career top five. “For me, there are two Johnny Rutherfords. There’s J.R., my friend in the paddock who drives the pace car and who on Lap 120 in the Indianapolis 500 under yellow is waving to me in the mirror of the pace car. And there’s Johnny Rutherford, the racing legend, and I say ‘It’s Johnny Rutherford.’
“So there’s almost a disconnect for me between my friend and this racing great. And the same with Rick. I see him every week. Rick is the guy when I first came over here helped me learn to drive an Indy car on an oval.”
Mears amassed his victories (22 CART, 7 USAC) in much the same manner as Franchitti – on a variety of ovals and road courses. Mears won his first Indy car race at the Mile on June 18, 1978. Bonus note: Greg Moore, Franchitti’s good friend who was fatally injured in an Oct. 31, 1999, racing incident, won his first Indy car race at the Mile on June 1, 1997. Franchitti observed a personal moment of silence on the grid pre-race, gazing at the sticker on the back of his helmet in honor of Moore.
“I was sitting there just before the driver's meeting and Rick walked up and we were talking about some stuff, just roundabout the races and some ideas he had,” Franchitti relayed about race day at Milwaukee. “And I thought, ‘Man, that's Rick Mears.’ I thought if I do win another race then I would be tying Rick. And it just seems very strange to be honest.
“(After I won at Texas to pass Rutherford), I saw J.R. in the bus lot about one o'clock in the morning and he stopped and just shook my hand and said well done. That was cool. It feels strange to be in that kind of company. But I’m very proud of it.”
Franchitti has three victories this season, including two in the span of eight days, matching his output from 2010. With bonus points from earning the PEAK Performance Pole Award and leading a field-high 161 laps, plus the points disparity between first and Will Power finishing fourth, Franchitti and Power are tied for the drivers’ championship heading into the June 25 race under the lights at Iowa Speedway.
Franchitti has won at the 0.875-mile oval in the odd-number years (since 2007) that the IZOD IndyCar Series has been visiting the Rusty Wallace-designed racetrack in Newton. Last year, he was leading the 250-lap race when a gearbox malfunction resulted in a season-low 18th place.
“We were in good shape last year, too,” he said. “We have to go there and do the job, and if we do the job we'll be in a good situation. And, if we don't, we move on.”