NASCAR & Auto Racing

Franchitti, Ganassi make it official; stock car testing, racing schedule will be rigorous

CONCORD, N.C. - This time Dario Franchitti wasn’t passed over for a bigger name on the other line.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates on Wednesday was finally able to make official its hiring of Franchitti, the reigning Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champion, to race full time in NASCAR next season.

He will become the first full-time European driver in NASCAR’s biggest series, Nextel Cup. Franchitti was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He will drive the organization’s No. 40 Dodge, replacing David Stremme.

Franchitti, 34, actually had this opportunity a year ago but was bumped in favor of former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya, who drives Ganassi’s No. 42 Dodge.

“He was in the No. 42 last year until that fateful day when I was on the phone with JPM,” said team owner Chip Ganassi.

“I called Dario back and said, ‘There is only one guy on the planet who could’ve called me and said he was interested and knocked you out of your seat, and he called. I’m sorry.’

“As it turned out, I felt really bad about that all of last year - until May when Dario won the Indy 500. Things really do happen for a reason.”

Franchitti will begin an immediate and ambitious testing and racing schedule in the time remaining this season.

He will attempt to make his stock car debut this weekend, driving in the Automobile Racing Club of America race at Talladega, Ala., on Friday.

“This is an absolute honor to be here today. I’ve had 11 great years in open-wheel racing and I’m ready for a new challenge, and this is it,” Franchitti said.

“I’m sitting here with an experience level of zero and I’m going to be relying a lot on my new teammates.”

Franchitti said his mind was already made up to join NASCAR before the Indy Racing League series finale, where he clinched the series championship.

“That championship was just icing on the cake of a terrific season,” he said. “It was time to move on and join this new world.”

Franchitti will join Montoya and 21-year-old Reed Sorenson in Ganassi’s Cup stable next season. Of the three, Sorenson - the youngest - has the most NASCAR experience.

“I think Juan’s done a pretty good job and learned a lot and showed you can make the transition from open-wheel racing,” Sorenson said. “There is a lot of stuff in this series you have to learn on your own and can’t really be explained by somebody. You do it while you’re racing.

"I think Dario will adjust well.”