Confirmng the rumors, Chip Ganassi announced at a press conference on Wednesday Morning that Dario Franchitti has been released from his Andretti Green Racing contract and will be driving for Ganassi in NASCAR. Franchitti gets his start immediately, with an entry in the ARCA race being run at Talladega this coming week-end.
Franchitti, who won the Indianapolis 500 this past May and was also the 2007 IRL champion, will replace David Stremme on the NASCAR Nextel Cup team, where he will be joining Juan Pablo Montoya.
Sponsorship for Franchitti has not been announced. The current sponsor for the car, Coors, has announced that it will not return for the 2008 season.
The move has implications for both NASCAR and open wheel racing. The dominance of NASCAR in American racing is certainly emphasized when the man who wins both the biggest open-wheel race of the year and the league championship leaves the series to join a team which indifferently in NASCAR. At some level, this may be an instance of money talking: once product endorsement and similar opportunities are factored in, NASCAR pays a lot better.
At some level, this may also be a concerted strategy by Ganassi. Ganassi’s NASCAR efforts, much like those of another open-wheel team owner, Roger Penske, have been marked by solid sponsorship and consistently mediocre results. Ganassi may simply be more comfortable fielding drivers who have been successful, as has he, in open wheel competition. Too, Franchitti, like Montoya, will attract attention to the team far beyond the level it could achieve on racing results alone.
But it remains to be seen whether he can do any better than Montoya. Ganassi is a Dodge team and no Dodge team currently running in NASCAR Cup competition is truly competitive. To win in NASCAR’s Sprint/Nextel Cup competition takes both the best in drivers, the best in cars, and the best in the team members that support both.
Chip Ganassi has not shown, to date, that he has those three components. At best, Franchitti supplies only one.