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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Franchitti returning to Ganassi in 2009 ... in Indycar

Another one bites the dust.

It looks like the massive open-wheel influx into NASCAR spurred by Juan Pablo Montoya has officially crashed and burned.

Dario Franchitti had a tough year, to be kind, driving for Chip Ganassi (and the often-forgotten Felix Sabates) in the #40 Cup ride until lack of funds caused that team to shut down. Since then, he’s done well in a few Nationwide races, but didn’t have any Cup plans lined up for 2009.

So, he went back to what he knows best … driving Indycars. Franchitti, who won the Indy 500 and Indycar title in 2007 for Andretti-Green Racing, will now return to the series, this time replacing Dan Wheldon on Ganassi’s open-wheel team as a teammate to Scott Dixon.

Though I’m sure the NASCAR world will miss seeing Franchitti’s lovely wife Ashley Judd at the track, this is obviously the best move for him. He is a GOOD stock car driver, but without big sponsorship money in this sport GOOD won’t get you far. On the other hand, he is a GREAT Indycar driver, as evidenced by his decade--plus of success in CART and the IRL. As I said when he first lost his Cup ride, some people are stock car drivers and others aren’t … you can’t force it.

Open-wheelers Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier are also on the outside looking in for 2009, and Montoya is struggling himself in the sport. Villeneuve can’t find sponsorship for a ride, and Carpentier has been pushed out for Mr. Mediocre Reed Sorenson.

It just goes to show that all those uppity open-wheel fans who look down on NASCAR as a bunch of no-talent hacks driving taxicabs and only turning left have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Making it in NASCAR is just as hard, maybe even harder, than success in Indycar or Formula 1, and anyone who denies that is pretty much ignoring reality.

Anyone who thinks like that should talk to Franchitti, Villeneuve, and Carpentier … they’ll set you straight.

Losing Frye would hurt Red Bull; Stewart a good poacher
For fans wondering why Red Bull Racing has made such massive improvements this year, a big part of the answer is Jay Frye. The team’s general manager, he oversees the daily operations of the team while the owner is in Austria watching over their global brand. Without Frye’s leadership, Brian Vickers would not have contended for the Chase this year.

Now, Stewart-Haas Racing has offered him a management deal, and he’s considering a departure. If he does go, that will be a big coup, as Stewart will make 2009 much more difficult for the Red Bull team and make his own team’s transition to success much more likely.

So far, it appears Stewart is pretty good at poaching good talent from other teams. Darien Grubb of Hendrick Motorsports will likely be his crew chief next season, and now he may snag Frye. The teams around the garage have to be wondering how many good mechanics, crew members, etc. they may be losing to Stewart before next season starts. One thing is for sure. … If Stewart gets enough good people into that organization, he could turn it around quicker than I or anyone else expected. These people are showing a lot of faith in Stewart, and that says a lot about their respect for him.

Stremme signed
As I predicted a while ago, David Stremme will drive the #12 car next year for Roger Penske. Stremme was a mid-pack driver when he was with Ganassi in his first time around in Cup, but showed signs he could be better than that. He is doing pretty good this year in Nationwide for Rusty Wallace’s team, and there really aren’t too many other options out there to consider now that the best free agents pretty much all have rides for next year. Penske’s team has been in a major funk this year, so Stremme will face a challenge in 2009. But if he and Kurt Busch begin to work together and Penske provides them the resources they need, this team could go back to contending the way it did during the Rusty Wallace era.

Drug policy may be expanded
NASCAR may soon announce an expansion of its drug-testing policy. Right now, they just test for “reasonable suspicion”. So, does this mean random testing? If so, it’s fine by me. Safety is the most important thing in a sport where drivers achieve speeds of more than 200 mph.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully expected Smoke to be competitive right out of the blocks I really don't understand why anyone would have thought otherwise. Getting cars from Hendrick Motor Sports of which 3 are in the Chase this year, replacing two drivers that are good Nationwide drivers but have never lit the sky up in Cup with a two time Cup Champ and arguably the best pole qualifier around and defending Daytona Champ. The team next year will not resemble Haas Racing in 2008 maybe they won't change the doorknobs on the front doors but I wouldn't even bet on that.

September 3, 2008 at 7:38 PM 

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