17 May 2011

The Greatest 33: No. 13 - Dario Franchitti

With 12 days remaining until the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, Drive Hard, Turn Left & SB Nation Indiana is continuing its countdown of the Greatest 33, the ultimate Indianapolis 500 field. Through a fan vote, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has released its field, which can be seen here.  Today, Drive Hard, Turn Left & SB Nation Indiana looks at last year's 500 champion, Dario Franchitti.
To think that Dario Franchitti nearly gave up the chance to be part of the 'Greatest 33' makes one shake their head.  Seeking a new challenge following his initial Indianapolis 500 win in 2007, Franchitti departed the sport for a year, only to return to Indianapolis revitalized, ensuring that his name would go down among the legends of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IZOD IndyCar Series.
It would take Franchitti a few years to become acclimated to IMS, with 19th and 14th place finishes in his first two runs in 2002 and 2004, respectively (a back injury kept Franchitti from the 2003 race).  However, Franchitti qualified on the front row in 2004, giving an indication that he was beginning to find the formula for success at Indianapolis.
Two top 10s would follow, but 2007 served as Franchitti's coming out party on the national stage.  With the Andretti-Green (now Andretti Autosport) team splitting strategies, Franchitti led throughout parts of the race, as he and teammate Tony Kanaan combined to lead 117 of the 163 completed laps.  Taking over the lead by not pitting with the remainder of the leaders, Franchitti would pace the final 11 laps to capture his first 500 win, the first by a Scotsman since Jim Clark in 1965.
Capturing his first IndyCar Series championship that fall, Franchitti left the sport for a year, dabbling in NASCAR pursuits for Chip Ganassi, only to have sponsorship woes.  A broken ankle also sidelined him, giving him ample time to visit with friends in the IndyCar community, reigniting a desire to run open-wheel.  When Ganassi offered a ride (one that could have gone to his friend Kanaan), Franchitti pounced, reopening his personal history book.
Collecting a seventh-place result in 2009 as the fuel hose was stuck in the car on a late pit stop, preventing Franchitti from continuing to run up front with teammate Scott Dixon.
Using the slip as motivation for the next year, Franchitti went about dominating the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Leading on six different occasions, Franchitti was in front of the field for 155 laps, but was close to running out of fuel in the closing laps before a late wreck ensured that he would return to Victory Lane for the second time in his career.
With Target Chip Ganassi Racing continuing to be one of the premier teams in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and given Franchitti's resurgence since returning to the sport, the Scotsman has a chance to continue to move up through the Greatest 33 field in the coming years.
The Greatest 33:
Row 5
13. Dario Franchitti
14. Emerson Fittipaldi
15. Parnelli Jones
Row 6
16. Rodger Ward
17. Al Unser Jr.
18. Jim Clark
Row 7
19. Jim Rathmann
20. Tommy Milton
21. Ralph DePalma
Row 8
22. Scott Dixon
23. Juan Pablo Montoya
24. Billy Arnold
Row 9
25. Bill Holland
26. Dan Wheldon
27. Ray Harroun
Row 10
28. Mark Donohue
29. Jacques Villeneuve
30. Danny Sullivan
Row 11
31. Tony Kanaan
32. Michael Andretti
33. Eddie Sachs

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