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Franchitti unsure on switching gears to NASCAR

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Dario Franchitti still doesn't know if his next lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be in a stock car.

The Indianapolis 500 and newly crowned IndyCar Series champion is expected to leave Andretti Green Racing for a ride in NASCAR next season.

"There's a lot of factors, and at the appropriate time I'll think about it, but right now I don't see it being the appropriate time," he said Tuesday. "We just won the championship and we're in sort of the celebration stage of that. I'm not going to really think about my future until the end of this week or the start of next week at the earliest."

Franchitti, who won the 500 in May, clinched the series title by winning the season-ending race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday.

He returned to the Speedway for a presentation ceremony of the Indy 500 and series championship trophies and also received a $1 million bonus from the IRL for his first series title. That and the $1.6 million for winning the 500 helped push his season total to a record $4.02 million.

"The championship means a lot. It's been kind of elusive," the 34-year-old Scotsman said. "I've been over here 10 years and won a bunch of races, but to finally have it happen means a lot. I didn't realize how much it did mean until I crossed the finish line (Sunday). To do that and the 500 in one year, I'm really proud of the job my guys did for me."

Franchitti and team owners Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree also received IndyCar Series championship trophies. Franchitti also was given a $100,000 diamond watch.

Among other awards presented by the IRL Tuesday night were $50,000 to Rahal Letterman driver Ryan Hunter-Reay as series rookie of the year. Englishman Alex Lloyd received the Firehawk Cup as champion of the developmental Indy Pro Series, along with other prizes including a $25,000 watch and $4,000 ring, and Japan's Hideki Mutoh won $10,000 as Pro Series rookie of the year.

Andretti Green's Jaime Camara won $10,000 for improving the most positions in Pro Series races this season.

He said he is interested in NASCAR because of the challenge.

"NASCAR would be something different ... something I haven't done. Apart from Formula One, it's probably one of the few things I haven't driven. So that would be one of the reasons to look at that."

Franchitti works on one-year contracts, so he would become a free agent on Dec. 1. Speculation on his future with Andretti Green began in May after he won the Indianapolis 500.

"I suppose one of the options is to do nothing next year, to say 'Thanks very much, I've had a good time. I'm going to go hang out somewhere quiet, on a beach,' but I really don't know yet," he added. "I've been quite disciplined in not allowing myself to go down that road (making a decision), so we'll see."

Former Indy winner and three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. also appears ready to make the jump to NASCAR next season. Hornish already has driven eight races in the developmental Busch Series since last year and plans to try to qualify a Penske Dodge for his Nextel Cup debut at New Hampshire on Sunday.

"Regardless of what I do or what Sam does, the IndyCar Series, I've noticed in the last couple of years, (has had) an increase in interest from fans, from TV numbers, crowds and the track, interest from outside," Franchitti said. "I've been pleasantly surprised by that, so regardless of what any driver does, the series is bigger than any driver."

IRL spokesman John Griffin said it's premature to comment on the possible departures of Hornish and Franchitti.

"From our standpoint, we feel we're in as good a position as we've ever been in the league's history in terms of drivers who have been around, established names," he said.



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