Franchitti ready to build on his success at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS - Dario Franchitti needed two Indianapolis 500 victories to feel like a defending champion.

Now he’s getting used to it.

Four years after winning a rain-shortened race, the Scotsman has returned to the venue of his two biggest wins with an opportunity to finally become a repeat winner. He never got that chance in 2008, leaving the comfort of IndyCars for the world of stock cars.

“It’s nice to talk about last year, but my job is to win this one,” Franchitti said. “Yeah, I’ve got a shot, and I think I’ve got a good one.”

Franchitti already has a sense of what this month will entail.

In March, NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird presented Franchitti with his Indy 500 champion’s ring. A week later, he returned to Indy in hopes of knocking out some of the interview requests he expects to fill over the next two weeks.

He’s been asked to do more sponsor appearances, will participate in a soldout fundraiser Monday night to benefit Riley Children’s Hospital of Indianapolis, and three days later will celebrate his 38th birthday.

Yes, it’s been a busy month, and if the rain actually stops this week, Franchitti will have been cramming in all of his on-the-track work before qualifying starts next weekend. In Saturday’s abbreviated practice, he was fourth on the speed chart with a best lap of 224.107 mph.

More showers washed out the six-hour session scheduled for Saturday before any cars could make it onto the track, and rain is sprinkled into the forecast for most of this week, too.

The good news is that Franchitti’s with a team, Target Chip Ganassi, and a teammate, Scott Dixon, who have endured the champion’s treatment before.

“You’re definitely a lot more in demand and it takes some time away as well,” said Dixon, the 2008 Indy winner. “As long as you get that managed well, and focus on the track, you’ll be all right.”

Franchitti could have sampled it himself after winning the 500 in 2007.

But five months after the race and just weeks after clinching the first of his three IndyCar points titles, Franchitti left Michael Andretti’s IndyCar team for Ganassi’s Sprint Cup team.

It was a miserable experience.

Franchitti failed to finish higher than 17th in his three warm-up races to close the 2007 season, then broke his left ankle in a Nationwide Series crash in 2008 at Talledega. The worst part was watching Dixon dominate the race at Indy with another ex-IndyCar driver, Max Papis, on Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte, N.C.

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