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Franchitti looking forward to NHMS

IndyCar returns to track in August

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / June 14, 2011

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As a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Dario Franchitti knows all about the traditions involved with winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. He has quaffed from an ice-cold bottle of milk in Victory Lane and he has kissed the yard of bricks at the start-finish line of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the return of the open-wheel IndyCar Series after a 13-year absence, Franchitti, driver of the Target Ganassi entry, would love nothing more than to be the first IndyCar driver to kiss the granite stripe — a tradition established last season at the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H. — as winner of the MoveThatBlock.com 225 on Aug. 14.

“That would be great,’’ said Franchitti, who was joined yesterday on Boston Common by NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya, IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard, and NHMS executive vice president/general manager Jerry Gappens to trumpet NHMS’s 2011 race schedule, which officials called the greatest in track history.

“You want to win every race, that’s the thing you want,’’ said Franchitti, who trails Penske Racing driver Will Power by 21 points (239-218) in the championship standings.

“Me, myself, and the whole Target team, that’s what we do this for,’’ Franchitti said. “As you saw Saturday night, we’re passionate about it. And so it would mean a lot to come here and prevail at a difficult track like New Hampshire Motor Speedway.’’

On Saturday night, Franchitti was left seething when he lost ground in the standings after getting outscored by race winner Power, 27-13, in the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway.

Franchitti won the event’s first 114-lap segment, but was forced to start 28th in the second segment after selecting his starting position in a made-for-TV blind draw.

Power, who finished third in the first segment, drew the third spot, went into the lead on Lap 40, and easily won the caution-free second segment to record the first oval win of his career. Franchitti, who won the first segment to record his 28th career victory and move into the top 10 all time, was forced to fight his way to a seventh-place finish in the second segment.

“Did you see Will’s reaction after the draw? It was quite right,’’ Franchitti said yesterday. “Will didn’t do anything wrong. Even he suggested that his best move of the race was drawing the No. 3.’’

Still Franchitti, a three-time IndyCar Series champion, fumed over the loss of precious championship points after having beat Power by five points last season.

“I think it’s my job to look at it from the big picture,’’ said Bernard, who suggested an inverted starting order would be strongly considered for next year’s second segment of the Twin 275s.

“Looking back on it, I think that it wasn’t for the best of the credibility of the World Championship,’’ Bernard said. “The thing that’s important to me is that I need those guys who are trying to finish first in the World Championship. I need to make sure that we’re not doing things that are gimmicky that can take that [credibility] away.’’

Bernard took full responsibility for the blind draw, and said he apologized to Franchitti.

“The apology and owning up to the mistake was a big deal, because it meant a lot,’’ Franchitti said. “It doesn’t change a lot from Saturday night, but, for me, it meant a lot. In the future, I would like to see more due diligence, I would say, in looking at and discussing the unintended consequences of those decisions.

“I would’ve been all for it had it been an all-star race, or a race for $1 million during the championship [such as NASCAR’s Sprint Cup]. I would’ve been happy with an inverted field. That would’ve meant me starting two places further back, but it was never about me starting at the back. It was about making it fair and having some performance parameters linked to the starting position, not just a lucky guess.

“Like I said, it’s over and done with. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite us at the end of the year.’’

Franchitti did applaud Bernard, in his second season as CEO, for his attempts to make the IndyCar Series more appealing, citing his standing $5 million offer to any non-IndyCar Series driver who qualifies for and wins the season-ending event at Las Vegas Oct. 16.

Bernard said he already has received queries from 26 drivers, including NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne.

Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 winner and veteran of 137 open-wheel starts, said it would be logistically impossible for him to pull away from his NASCAR duties, presumably in a Chase event in Charlotte, N.C., to race in Las Vegas.

“It’s just a lot of things,’’ said Montoya, who expects to be at NHMS for the Sprint Cup’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on July 17. “You’re going to come out of a three-day NASCAR event and go there and make an Indy qualifying run? Are you out of your mind? It’s different, you know what I mean? We’re racing every week [in NASCAR] and I think it’s exciting and it’s great for the fans.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.