Franchitti’s retirement was still reverberating through the sport. Jimmie Johnson, who goes for his sixth NASCAR championship Sunday, said he feels horrible for his good friend.
“In one light, it shows just how bad his crash was. I’m just happy he is in good health,” Johnson said. “My heart goes out to him from the perspective of having racing taken from him before it was time. That’s got to be so tough to deal with. Everyone wants to walk away on their terms.”
Formula One driver Jenson Button said Franchitti made “the right decision” and praised his friend for his career accomplishments _ even if he’s not properly recognized in Europe for his achievements.
“He’s a long way away from Europe and a lot of American motorsport doesn’t really get the credit in Europe,” Button said at the U.S. Grand Prix. “It is what it is. It’s just a long way away. I don’t think it matters how many compliments he gets. He knows what he’s achieved and the people he cares about know as well. A very impressive career and he’s a great guy as well.”
Franchitti’s mentor, Jackie Stewart, said the four-time IndyCar champion is exiting on top and will be an asset outside of the car.
“There’s not much more he could achieve in American motor racing,” Stewart said at the U.S. Grand Prix. “I think he’s one of the real players in the business. He’s got a strong future in front of him because of the success he’s achieved in racing. Sad for motor racing because he’s a great asset to us: A great looking guy, very eloquent and he’s very fast.”
Franchitti also could be the unofficial face of the importance of baseline concussion testing in racing.
NASCAR is mandating the testing beginning next season, in part because of the two concussions Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered last year. NASCAR will use the ImPACT test to measure verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time, and determine if a driver is medically able to race following a concussion.
NASCAR President Mike Helton did not say Friday that Franchitti’s injury validated NASCAR’s decision to implement the testing. But he acknowledged the industry takes note when a champion driver has to get out of the car. Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has been out since August with a broken leg, and Denny Hamlin missed several races earlier this year with a fractured vertebra.
“I think it has a huge effect on all of the motorsports industry when a caliber of driver like Dario says he’s not going to get back in the car,” Helton said.
Defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski has been outspoken in his opposition of the testing, which has long been required in IndyCar.
“Doctors don’t understand our sport. They never have. Doctors aren’t risk takers. We are,” Keselowski has said. “That’s what makes our sport what it is. When you get doctors involved, you water down our sport.”
While not asked specifically about Keselowski, Ganassi referenced his stance while supporting the testing.
“Let’s just say I’m probably 180 degrees different than the current NASCAR champion feels about having doctors around, their input,” he said. “That statement comes from experiences that I’ve had personally. To break a bone is one thing, or to have a surgical procedure is another.
“But when it comes to your head, I think it’s important that everybody understands that’s probably the least known area of expertise by any doctor, and certainly there’s a lot of expertise out there. They’re just in the last four or five years understanding what injuries and implications of those injuries are.”