Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Only Move

Dario Franchitti's foray into NASCAR was short-lived, and fortunately, the 2007 Indianapolis 500 champion saw the writing on the wall.

It was reported on Tuesday that Franchitti would remain with car owner Chip Ganassi, but return to the IndyCar Series. Franchitti, the 2007 IRL champion, will pilot the No. 10 machine, replacing Dan Wheldon. Wheldon's options are limited, though reports have him replacing Vitor Meira at Panther Racing next season.

Wheldon might be one of the best drivers in the IRL, but Meira isn't exactly chopped liver. He has eight second-place finishes this year, including twice in the Indy 500, so I'm not sure what the thinking would be in replacing a young guy with that much potential.

Then again, Wheldon has an Indy 500 and an IRL title on his resume.

But back to Franchitti; if Juan Pablo Montoya was the welcome mat for open-wheel veterans to give NASCAR a shot, Franchitti should be the cautionary tale. While Ganassi brought him over thinking sponsorship would latch on (after all, who wouldn't want to sponsor a likeable Indy 500 champion with a movie star wife?), it didn't, and after the No. 40 made just 10 races this season, Ganassi pulled the plug on the team.

The same No. 40 team that nearly won a Cup title with Sterling Marlin in 2001 and gave Jamie McMurray his first Cup win in 2002.

Franchitti's best Sprint Cup finish? A 22nd-place effort at Martinsville. He showed a little more promise in the Nationwide Series, with two top-10s and a top-5 finish. But sixth-place at Las Vegas and fifth at Watkins Glen couldn't keep the struggles at bay, as Franchitti fractured his ankle in a Nationwide Series crash at Talladega.

All in all, NASCAR just wasn't in the cards for Franchitti anymore.

There had been discussions of Franchitti taking over the No. 41 Sprint Cup ride, which will be vacated at the end of the season when Reed Sorenson leaves for Gillett Evernham Motorsports. But the 2009 IndyCar schedule, which promises more road and street courses, and Ganassi's own IRL success, made the decision easy for Franchitti.

To say Ganassi's NASCAR program is struggling would be like saying Chad Johnson is a selfish player. Between the shuttering of the No. 40, Sorenson leaving and Texaco-Havoline leaving the no. 42 at the end of the season, things aren't nearly as fruitful in the stock car world as they are on the open-wheel side for Ganassi.

And I applaud Franchitti for seeing that. I like Franchitti, and have no doubts with regards to his ability to drive a race car, but stock cars just weren't working out for him. Stock cars aren't as easy as some might think.

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