Franchitti perplexed by 'down-and-up' season

Dario Franchitti wants to turn his season around sooner rather than later, preferably before the...

Dario Franchitti wants to turn his season around sooner rather than later, preferably before the Toronto Indy. (CHRIS TROTMAN/Getty Images/AFP file photo)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:51 PM ET

TORONTO - One could surmise that, after three consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series championships, Dario Franchitti was due for a season where he and the No. 10 Target Ganassi Racing Honda did not dominate.

Well, hello 2012!

Franchitti has had a season to forget so far — except, of course, for his third Indianapolis 500 win in May — but he holds out hope that he can claw his way back into the championship picture starting this week at Iowa Speedway.

In an interview Tuesday from his Nashville home, Franchitti said he is optimistic the team can pull it off.

“Every weekend, you look to do a good job,” he said. “It is not a case of looking for the magic bullet. In the situation that we are in and having won the past three championships in a row, we should be challenging every weekend.”

With the next race after Iowa being the Honda Indy Toronto — a race that he also has won three times — Franchitti said that while he looks forward to Toronto, he wants his season to start turning around now.

“We have the capability to do it, so I am not waiting for Toronto to do that,” he said. “I want to do that in Iowa this weekend.”

Franchitti is perplexed at how the Target Ganassi team got into this position — seventh in points and 69 behind rival and leader Will Power — in the first place.

“We have definitely had a down-and-up season as I like to call it,” he said. “We started off pretty slowly; we were struggling to try to figure the new car out.”

Slowly is the right word to describe the No. 10’s start to 2012.

At the opening race, Franchitti finished 13th and followed that up with a 10th place at Alabama only to drop to a 15th-place finish at Long Beach.

It wasn’t until the fourth race of the season at Sao Paulo that the team began to show signs of life in the new Dallara DW12 chassis.

“By Brazil, we thought we had it figured out,” Franchitti said. “We qualified on the front row and then got spun to the back and had to fight our way back to fifth.

“We were feeling that we may have turned the corner.”

Then came the month of May in Indianapolis, the first oval of the season, where everybody’s focus was on the big race.

“Indy was obviously was great, but in that race too, we got spun to the back and we fought our way back through the grid and won the race and that was a high point for sure.”

The team went right to the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle and finished second, a sign, so Franchitti thought, that the bad times were over.

But it wasn’t to be as the team went to Texas and Milwaukee, where Franchitti expected to do well, having won both races in 2011.

“We struggled in Texas and then again at Milwaukee last week,” he said. “We just weren’t good.”

So Franchitti is now fighting an up hill battle to get the team back on track and back into the championship fight.

And he sad he is going to take a complete team effort to pull it off.

“We need to do a better job; and when I say we, I mean me and the team need to work together to come up with a better set up on the race car,” he said.

The key, Franchitti said, is to get back a level of consistency, something they have always had in the past.

“It’s been tough with just having to deal with getting it right some weekends and not getting it right other weekends,” he said. “We need to do a better job of getting it right more weekend than not.”

Not that he is looking for excuses but Franchitti said the IndyCar schedule — five weekends in succession going into Iowa — has played a part in the team’s performance.

“I think that everybody is worn down right now,” he said. “I know the Target boys are worn out. Driver wise we have had five weekends in a row, with Indianapolis before that.

“With winning Indy I have had only three days at home since the middle of April.”

There is light at the end of that tunnel, however, with a two week break between Iowa and Toronto.

“Those days off are going to be great to recharge the batteries and give the team some time to figure out where we are missing our set ups,” he said.

HAMLIN ESCAPES FIRE AT MICHIGAN

There is no more terrifying moment for a race car driver than when fire enters the cockpit.

Even with sophisticated fire retardant suits and in-car fire extinguishers that go off at the first sign of flames, it is an experience every driver fears.

It happened to Denny Hamlin on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that erupted to a ball of fire as he drove down pit road.

He stopped the car as flames spread through the car from back to front. Pit crews from Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman’s teams rushed to his aid.

“I’ve never actually been in that position before,” Hamlin said. “I’d seen it with other guys, but I’ve never known what it’s actually like — but it gets hot.

“I thought for a second there I was OK. (The fire) was just in the back, and then something exploded in the front, and it caught on fire.

“Thankfully, we’ve got everything that we have safety-wise. One good thing at least is that Ryan’s guys came and got me out — and a couple of the No. 18 (Busch’s) guys. NASCAR is a family, and any time anyone is in trouble, everyone is going to try to help. It’s good that those guys were around and willing to take a chance.”

HINCHCLIFFE CLIMBS INDYCAR STANDINGS

Canada’s James Hinchcliffe heads to Iowa Speedway this week in second place behind Will Power in the IZOD IndyCar Series championships.

And he hopes to emerge as the first Canadian to lead a major racing series since Paul Tracy did it back in 2003.

After eight races in the 15 race schedule Hinchcliffe is 31 points back of Power and leads all drivers in points earned on ovals this season

“We’re just going to try and keep doing what we’ve been doing with the Go Daddy car — stay consistent and run toward the front,” he said this week. “Hopefully we can strengthen our lead in the oval race and narrow the gap with Will in the overall points.”

DEAN'S RANT: STEWART A SORE LOSER

The end of Dale Earnhardt’s four year winless streak was worth celebrating after the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.

Not just for Earnhardt but for his millions of rabid fans.

It, however, appeared that it was not a reason to celebrate for Tony Stewart, who finished second in the race.

“It’s not a national holiday, guys,” Stewart told the assembled media types in a post race rant.

Then he took on a sarcastic tone to say: “This morning, they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we are all in a state of mourning now because he’s broke that streak now, so I don’t know what we are all supposed to think.”

What we are supposed to think, Tony, is that a good guy — Earnhardt — ended a woefully long losing skein.

We know that Stewart is a hard nosed, extremely talented racer. He is after all, a three time Sprint Cup champion.

But being a sore loser in this case is just unchampion-like.

No one expected him to run out and hug his rival, but the least he should have done is acknowledge it was great to see Earnhardt’s misery come to an end.


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