- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

JOLIET, Ill. | When drivers talk about the ups and downs of life in racing, they don’t use such phrases as “lowest low” lightly - not with real danger lurking around every turn.

So when viewed in the proper context, spending last year spinning his wheels in NASCAR isn’t a big deal to Dario Franchitti.

“I’ve had, certainly, worse times in racing, losing friends and things like that,” Franchitti said. “Compared to that, last year was a walk in the park.”

That said, Franchitti is glad to be back in IndyCar - and back in championship contention.

“I’m where I should be, I think,” Franchitti said. “At the end of ‘07, I needed to try something, I needed a break. But this is what I grew up doing. This is what I love doing. And I’m enjoying it, man. I’m really, really enjoying it.”

After winning last week’s race on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., Franchitti enters Saturday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway second in the series standings. He trails championship leader Ryan Briscoe by only five points after Briscoe earned a bonus point for winning the pole position in qualifying Friday afternoon.

At least one fellow driver believes Franchitti can pull off a title run after spending the racing equivalent of a year in the wilderness.

“I guess I’d have to go with Dario,” Danica Patrick said. “I think he’s just so happy this year and he’s happy to be back and having a good time, and his emotions seem so positive. He just seems like he’s having fun.”

After winning the Indianapolis 500 and the series championship for Andretti Green Racing in 2007, Franchitti packed up his helmet and firesuit to take a shot at NASCAR with Chip Ganassi’s team. Despite a great deal of fanfare for the dashing Scottish driver and his celebrity wife, actress Ashley Judd, Franchitti didn’t find much success on the track.

He had a series of up-and-down results that included a broken foot in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway. Then Ganassi had to disband Franchitti’s team because Ganassi couldn’t find corporate sponsorship to back the team.

It was a difficult year, but he doesn’t regret trying to make the jump to NASCAR.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “It was something I wanted to try. I really have no regrets about it. I wish I’d known more going in, and I wish I might have understood more what I was getting into. I might have changed a few things. But no, no regrets.”

Franchitti said he didn’t have a hard time dealing with the disappointment.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 10 years old,” he said. “So you learn over years of racing, of success and disappointment, how to handle these things, whether it’s good or bad. And I think over the past two years, we’ve really experienced the highest high and pretty close to the lowest low. You just deal with it.”

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