A look at Dario Franchitti's career
However, late last week, a legendary Indy Car career came to a sudden and abrupt end when Dario Franchitti announced his retirement. Franchitti, 40, suffered a broken back, concussion and broken ankle in a horrific crash six weeks ago on the final lap in Race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.
Reportedly, the lingering effects of the concussion resulted in doctors encouraging the four-time series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner to call it a career. Franchitti, heeding the doctors advice released a statement last week nothing that the recommendations left him no choice, "but to stop."
With that, one of the great careers of this or any IndyCar era came to a close.
And putting aside the sport's two winningest drivers A.J. Foyt (67 career wins) Mario Andretti (52), Franchitti handed us a resume last week that can be reasonably compared to any other driver the sport has ever witnessed.
In the last week, many in the IndyCar community have shared their sentiments publicly regarding Franchitti, the man. Clearly, Franchitti carried himself with a unique style and grace. And one would be hard-pressed to find any IndyCar driver, of this or any era, to have sported a better head of hair.
All kidding aside, today AutoRacing1.com will take a look at Franchitti, the driver, and where his on-track accomplishments rank amongst the greats in IndyCar history.
By the Numbers:
Ahead of Franchitti are the aforementioned Foyt and Andretti, Michael Andretti (42), Al Unser (39), Bobby Unser (35), Al Unser, Jr. (34), and Scott Dixon (33). Sitting just behind the three-way Tracy-Bourdais-Franchitti logjam are Rick Mears (29), Helio Castroneves (28) and Johnny Rutherford (27).
Also, throw in the fact that Franchitti is one of only ten men to win three or more Indy 500s. And while the historical record of championships is a convoluted minefield of countless sanctioning-body acronyms, only Foyt recorded more season-long championships than Franchitti's four.
In short, when it comes to the sports all-time greats, Franchitti has a seat at the table on no uncertain terms. But let's take a look at what distinguishes Franchitti's career from others.
To begin, I have no intention of impugning the accomplishments of those mentioned above. However, when it comes to comparing all-time greats with other all-time greats, I can poke holes if you will, in the resumes of some relative to others.
While I'm in the camp that believes too much of an emphasis on the Indianapolis 500, some of the above drivers (Tracy, Bourdais, and Michael Andretti) never won the sport's crown-jewel event. Castroneves has never won a series championship. Unser, Jr. earned only 7 poles in his IndyCar career. Or stated another way, Unser. Jr. scored, one less career pole than both Tomas Scheckter or Alex Tagliani. Tracy never won a race on a super speedway, nor has Bourdais. Many such as Rutherford, Foyt, and Unser, Jr., had less than glorious ends to their careers.
And I can go on.
In short, if I wanted to, I could nitpick and point out blemishes in the resumes of some. I'm finding this to be rather difficult with Dario Franchitti. Even in his final season, where he did not find victory lane and was likely not at his peak, he still recorded four pole positions. In short, there is no glaring weakness with Franchitti. I suppose you could dig deep, and unearth something, but I'm guessing I've already dug deeper than most are willing.
He was Good Everywhere:
To illustrate this, let the record show that Franchitti made 265 starts; 129 on road and street courses, 136 on ovals, nearly a 50/50 split. He scored 16 wins on ovals, 15 on road and street courses, again nearly a 50/50 split.
When it came to the twisties, he was equally thorough. He won in stadium parking lots, downtown city streets, airport runways, and the classic permanent road courses.
In total, his 31 wins came on 23 separate tracks.
This Proficiency Goes Further:
Franchitti contested 43 separate venues during his career. In addition to winning on 23 different tracks, he recorded at least one podium finish at 34 of the 43 venues he contested. But let's take this a step
Remember, our essential thesis about Franchitti contending that he has no weaknesses. Now, get a load of this: there was no track, not one, in which Franchitti made more than 3 starts and never finished on the podium. Of the nine tracks, in which he never recorded a podium (Lausitz, Denver, Mexico City, Miami, Loudon, Motegi road course, Sao Paolo Phoenix and Baltimore), only the final three did Franchitti take the green flag more than once.
Yes, let the record that Franchitti was good everywhere. I suppose there could be a blemish somewhere on the resume, but to find it you're going to have to dig deeper than I have.
One simple measure of a drivers ability is how he performs relative to teammates. While Franchitti spent nearly his entire career in top-notch equipment, he consistently had good teammates to contend with.
Of course, in the early days at Team Kool Green, Franchitti was paired with Tracy. In five seasons, Franchitti won 10 races to Tracy's six.
He struggled a little in 2004 and 2005 at Andretti Green Racing. Dan Wheldon won 9 races in those two seasons, Tony Kanaan 5, and Franchitti 4. After a winless season in 2006, Franchitti bounced back in 2007 to win the Indy 500 and series championship.
He moved to NASCAR in 2008, before returning to IndyCar in 2009. And the three years from 2009-2011 will undoubtedly go down as Franchitti's prime years, He scored 12 victories in those three seasons, and won all three series championships. Arguably, most impressive was Franchitti bested an experienced teammate theoretically in his prime years during that stretch, in Dixon.
Depending on where Dixon ends up in the pantheon of IndyCar greats, we may ultimately view the fact Franchitti outran him those three seasons as his greatest achievement.
Not a launching-pad, nor a port in the storm. But, a destination
Franchitti did not enjoy the luxury of competing in what anyone would call an era of prosperity for IndyCar racing. Partially because of that, he will likely never be a celebrated, romanticized figure a la Mario Andretti or Foyt. Nevertheless, Franchitti's historical impact was felt.
See, Franchitti, Tracy, Dixon, Castroneves, and to a lesser Tony Kanaan, Will Power, and Dan Wheldon collectively comprise the first generation, in which the sport's legends have been primarily international drivers. Plus, unlike previous international stars, to the stars of this era IndyCar was a destination, not a launching point, or port in a storm.
Previously, international stars such as Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi experienced success in IndyCar after successful Formula One careers. Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi, and Sebastien Bourdais parlayed Indy Car success into launching F1 careers.
Sure, Franchitti had a stint in NASCAR, and like Dixon tested in F1. But whatever status Dixon, Castroneves, Franchitti, Power, and Kanaan, attain in the motor sport pantheon, they attained in IndyCar. Of course, some would argue this has had an adverse effect on the sport, further disconnecting it from grassroots America, and I suppose that could be the case. But that is a different subject for a different day.
The simple reality is that Dario Franchitti and others international drivers like him have made IndyCar a destination. And what a destination it was.
In sixteen IndyCar seasons, Franchitti put together a career of monumental proportions on the track, and historical significance off. Presuming a full recovery from the accident in Houston, Franchitti has retired from the sport a young man. In an instant, formally or informally, Franchitti became one of IndyCar's greatest ambassadors.
As for Indy Car racing, the sport has welcomed Franchitti to its pantheon of legends. Yes, two Andrettis, three Unsers, Foyt, Mears, and others have been joined by a wee-Scot. And when you picture Franchitti amongst such icons of the sport, he doesn't look the least bit out of place.
Brian Carroccio is an IndyCar Columnist with AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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