Dario Franchitti (2008 driver of the No. 40 Dodge Avenger) ON HIS RACE AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY “It was kinda into the deep end for us. We didn’t get a chance to do any testing so we showed up on Thursday and jumped in the Target Dodge for the first time. I ran my first laps at Talladega and my first laps in a stock car. It was feeling the car out for the first session and doing some single car runs. The car was great. So I was just out there learning. I think I managed 15 laps the first day. Then the second day I managed to double my quota of laps doing some drafting practice. We started at the back for the race because we had an engine change so we started last. It was just a case of coming through the field and learning what it was all about. Trying to work with drafting partners, making the right moves and not getting into any trouble. That was a lot of fun, certainly new experiences for me. Sometimes I made good moves and sometimes I made pretty bad moves. But as I said it was all learning.
“I did my first stock car pit stop, which I didn’t do such a good of a job on. I let the rpm’s get too low. That is something I need to work on. The second stop actually went very well. We made progress there. All in all it was a lot of fun and a great experience to get into the stock car for the first time.”
HOW DOES THE DRAFT DIFFER BETWEEN STOCK CARS AND INDY CARS? “In the Indy car the biggest thing is who is in front of you for the draft. The car behind gives you a little bit of help but it is mostly who’s in front. With the stock car the guy in front is somewhat important but it’s really the guys behind who were helping along. Bump drafting was a new experience and a little bit of side drafting too. That all had to be taken into account. At the start of the day the Target Dodge was so fast. It was coming back from 41st and got somewhat close to the front pretty quickly. I guess we picked up some debris on the front and put a hole in the front of the car. That was a lesson in itself, just learning how sensitive the stock car is to damage to the body work. It slowed us down toward the end of the race. It is just learning one thing after another.”
WHEN YOU FIRST TOLD YOUR WIFE ASHLEY ABOUT THIS MOVE TO NASCAR WHAT WAS HER FIRST REACTION? “It wasn’t really an announcement. Ashley and I talked about this decision I was going to make through every step of the process. From my first call with Chip (Ganassi), right through to signing the deal she was part of that decision making process. She was supportive the whole time. She knew it was something I was really interested in doing. She supports me 100 percent on it.”
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST SHOCK OF THE WEEKEND FOR YOU? “Being out there on the track with 40 other cars that was a pretty big culture shock and just the different style of racing that was the big thing. I expected that to be the biggest learning experience of the weekend and the biggest difference from what I’m used to, that was the way it proved.”
IS IT GOING TO BE DIFFICULT TO LEARN TO DRIVE STOCK CARS QUICKLY AT THE CUP LEVEL? “That is one of the reasons why, right now, we are trying to do as much running as possible. Whether it is testing or different races, I think we’re trying to get as much done as we can before the start of next season and jumping into Cup. The team has been through this before with Juan (Montoya), so there is nothing new there for the team. As far as what I’ve done in the past I jumped in a CART car for the first time over here in the states. I had never seen an oval before and I went straight into testing and my first race. I didn’t do too badly. You have to learn sometime. I think it is going to be a heck of a challenge. I’m not underestimating that challenge at all. But this is the path I’ve chosen.”
COMMENTS ON A CHAMPIONS ABILITY TO DECIDE QUICKLY “I think any driver makes big decisions fairly quickly on track. Sometimes they make the right decision and sometimes they make the wrong decision on the track. I think there are certain times that you make good decisions all the time over a season. Sometimes you can’t make a right decision. I think in the ’07 season we were in position and we didn’t make too many wrong decisions. I’ve also been on the other end when you don’t make too many good ones.”
WHO/WHAT WERE YOUR INSPIRATIONS TO GET INTO RACING? “My inspiration to get into racing was really my dad. My dad raced as a hobby of his. We would watch every type of racing or every race that was on the TV back then. I always knew I wanted to be a driver. So my dad was really my inspiration for that. Then watching the Formula 1 guys, that was the next step on that road.”
WHAT DID YOU FIRST IMPRESSIONS ON TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY? “My first ever impression of the speedway was flying over it a couple of years ago. I was flying back from Florida in the helicopter and because of weather I had to avoid Georgia. I flew right over the top of it. The size of it was the first thing that really struck me then.
“Again flying in there on Wednesday when I arrived at the airport there it was starting to fill up with campers in the outfield and that sort of stuff. It is just vast. It is a vast facility. You look at that banking and it looks like a wall it is so steep. Then leaving the airport on Sunday night there were planes just lined up on the runway. You take off and there are people everywhere, there is traffic, there are campers as far as you can see. It was quite an introduction to the track and to NASCAR.”
WHAT IS THE TEAM ATMOSPHERE IN THE DODGE MOTORSPORTS GROUP AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM WHERE YOU CAME FROM? “First of all I’m lucky with where I came from. I had a great relationship with my teammates going back as long as I’ve been in racing, but certainly with Andretti Green Racing. I was really lucky there. Now becoming a part of the Dodge family I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been welcomed by everybody. I’m starting to build relationship with my teammates. I obviously know Juan (Montoya) from way back. He has been very helpful in every aspect of what I’m about to do. I’m getting to know Reed (Sorenson) a little bit. I’m flying to Las Vegas with Reed today. I’m getting to know David (Stremme) as well and Bryan Clauson. So it is a lot of new people on the team and a lot of new faces. I’m getting to know everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, everybody at Dodge and everybody in the NASCAR paddock. It is fun to start on this new journey.”
YOU SPENT THE WHOLE IRL SEASON BATTLING SCOTT DIXON OF GANASSI RACING. HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT FOR YOU TO TELL MICHAEL ANDRETTI YOU WERE GOING TO RUN FOR GANASSI? “I’ve been battling Chip’s cars and drivers since I first came over here to the United States in 1997. It wasn’t really too difficult to tell Michael because I wasn’t going to compete against Andretti Green Racing in the Indy Car Series. I was going a whole new direction with racing in Sprint Cup next year. So that wasn’t a problem.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN THE ARCA OFFICIAL ASKED YOU IF YOU SPOKE ENGLISH AND HOW ARE YOU GETTING ALONG WITH FELIX SABATES?
“I laughed. I laughed when the ARCA guy came in and asked me that question. I was on the radio joking with my spotter and with the guys. I found it pretty amusing.
“I haven’t met Felix yet. So I’m looking forward to that. I hear he is quite a character. So I’m really looking forward to hanging out with him.”
WHAT DOES YOUR SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON? “At this point the team is trying to get me in the cars as much as possible. I’m sure today or tomorrow I’m going to get that schedule laid out for me and I’ll know what I’m doing. Right now I’ve got an appearance in Vegas this week and I’m not sure after that. But I’m sure it is going to be busy.”
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND DURING THE FIRST 20 LAPS OF THE ARCA RACE? “The first part of the race I was under an unusual experience. I’m used to running with the same drivers in Indy car. I know exactly how they are going to react to different situations. All of a sudden I’m at the back of a 30 car pack with a bunch of people I’ve never raced with before. So I don’t know how each driver reacts, which ones you can work with, which ones you can’t, which ones will cut you off. You’re out here trying to get through the pack and trying to learn not only about driving a stock car and drafting but what each driver does. You’re running inches apart and sometimes closer than inches apart. So that was a lot to take in. By the end of the race I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable with the whole thing.”
HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET BEHIND THE WHEEL BEFORE THE SEASON STARTS NEXT YEAR? “I’d like to get as much time as possible in the seat. Again, right now I’ve only driven the ARCA car for two days and that was with restrictor plates. I’d like to get on all different types of tracks if I can and get as much time as possible until I feel comfortable. Then we’ll reevaluate from there. The team has been through this with Juan last season so they have a good handle on it. They will know what I need to be doing and I’ll go along with that.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR ACHIEVMENTS HAVE BEEN OVERLOOKED IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY AND WHAT KIND OF RECEPTION DO YOU GET WHEN YOU RETURN TO SCOTLAND? “That is a question I’ve been asked a lot since winning the (Indianapolis) 500. Judging by all the questions that my mom kept when we won the 500 there was quite a big deal made of that. It was nice to get some recognition at home. I go out there and I race because I enjoy it, not for the recognition factor.”
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU WILL GO ABOUT GAINING THE RESPECT OF THE DRIVERS IN THE NASCAR GARAGE? “The only way to do that is to go on the track and earn their respect through your actions on the track. I’ve meet some of the guys from the Nextel Cup Series and I’ve spoken to some of them. I think it’s really your actions on the track that will earn me that respect.”
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE AN ADVERSE AFFECT ON THE OPEN WHEEL SERIES BY LEAVING IT? “No, not at all. I think that the Indy Car Series will get on just fine without me or without Sam (Hornish, Jr.) if he chooses to come over to NASCAR. It is one of those things. You see drivers retire or move on to other things and a young driver comes in and takes the place. I think the IRL will do just fine.”
WHEN THE RACE WAS OVER WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND LAST WEEK? “It was a level of excitement. I sat with Juan afterwards over at his bus and he was asking me about it. I had a great time. I enjoyed it a lot. That was definitely a positive start.
“It wasn’t that mentally draining actually, certainly not physically draining. I don’t think you can describe Talladega as a physical track. It was certainly hot in the car but I was fine on both accounts.”
WHAT DID CHIP GANASSI SAY TO YOU AFTER THE RACE? “Chip called me straight after the race. He just said ‘good job man!’ He seemed happy with the whole thing. We were talking through different stages of the race and he said, ‘good job man that was a good start.’”
WHAT ARE DAN WHELDON’S THOUGHTS ON YOUR MOVE TO NASCAR? “Dan and I hadn’t talked since Michigan. We’ve talked but it wasn’t a very friendly conversation after Michigan. After Chicago, after winning the Championship, Dan came out that night and we had a conversation about it. It was great. It was fine. I don’t want to speak for Dan here but I believe he still has the goal of winning another 500 and trying to win a Championship before he does anything.”
DID YOU GET A CHANCE TO WATCH SUNDAY’S RACE AND WHAT DID YOU SEE ON SUNDAY THAT YOU WOULDN’T HAVE SEEN IF YOU HADN’T DRIVEN ON FRIDAY? “That’s a good question. I stood up in the spotter’s stand for about the first half of the race. I’ve watched 90 percent of the Cup and Busch races on television but having driven on Friday I could see a bit more of what was going on. I could see moves happening before they happened. You could see people setting up for those moves. I just got a new level of appreciation for what was going on out there.”