INDIANAPOLIS — Dario Franchitti says he doesn't look at the numbers or concern himself with where he stacks up on the list of all-time greats.
If he did, the four-time IndyCar champion would see he is in very heady company. Currently tied with Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy for seventh on the all-time wins list, one more victory would move Franchitti up a notch — with the other drivers ahead of him named Foyt, Andretti and Unser.
And if that win comes today in the Indianapolis 500, Franchitti would move into a very exclusive club. He'd join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing."
"A.J., Rick, and Al Sr., are three pretty amazing people, and to be the first non-American to do it would also be pretty special," Franchitti said. "But I don't think about it. My job is to focus on making it happen. The numbers, yes they are important. I've been doing this a long time and winning consistently, when that is happening, the numbers are going to be quite high. Only it's not ultimately the number that matters, but what I represent.
Franchitti, who turned 40 last Sunday, has no idea when retirement might be. He finds it ironic that he's often asked about it at the same time many of his friends are just hitting lifetime milestones like marriage, purchasing a home and job promotions.
But the combination of his age and recent results have made the "R" word an unavoidable topic of conversation.
The last of Franchitti's 31 victories was last year's Indianapolis 500. It's his only win dating back to Toronto in July 2011, the year he won his fourth title, and puts him in a streak of one victory in his last 26 races.
Franchitti is currently mired in the worst start of his career, ranked 27th in the IndyCar standings without a podium finish to his name. There is speculation that Franchitti hasn't adapted to the DW-12 car IndyCar began using last season.
He's heard the talk but said it's simply not true.
"These things ebb and flow," he said. "In 2006, I didn't win a race. In 2000, I didn't win a race. The story to write last year was that I didn't have a handle on the car, but if you look at the qualifying stats, it was our best in many years so the facts didn't fit the story that people were writing."
Indeed, Franchitti started from the pole five times last year and on the front row in eight of 15 races. It came during a year of Chevrolet dominance, when Honda drivers combined to win just four races. Franchitti and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon combined for three of them.
Team owner Ganassi said the organization deserves more blame for Franchitti's current rut than the driver.
"We know what we're doing and what challenges we face and battles we have," Ganassi said. "There are often times things not reported in the press, or on TV, and we have a team with a lot of people who know how to win races and what buttons to push and win. What areas of development to improve and work harder on, so I wouldn't say any of those are his lack of ability to understand the car. I don't see that as an issue."
Nor does Dixon, who rattles off a list of happenings that kept Franchitti out of Victory Lane, including an engine failure during the pre-race laps at Iowa.
"Dario is always very competitive and he should have won more last year," Dixon said. "He's had a string of situations where things could have gone different. I don't think you look at it and say, 'He's struggling with the car,' because I think both of us have missed it fair and square at some points of the year. But once he hits his stride, that's when Dario becomes very dominant and strong. Once he gets a run going, he can be pretty ruthless."
Former teammate Graham Rahal recently watched the 2007 Indianapolis 500, Franchitti's first victory. A rainstorm interrupted the race for three hours, and Franchitti turned it up a notch when the race resumed. He was leading when an accident brought out a caution minutes before it began to rain again. Franchitti was declared the winner of the rain-shortened race, and all three of his victories have ended under caution.
"Dario has been the king of putting himself in the right place at the right time," Rahal said. "He's always so good, and I watched the '07 race the other day — when he knew he had to go, he went."
When it's time to go Sunday, Franchitti will once again go and make a run at a milestone victory. But win or lose, the party will be raging Sunday night, when Franchtti will finally celebrate his 40th birthday. He was too busy at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to celebrate last week, and has his usual huge crowd of friends and family in Indy for the race.
"Leading up to it, yes, the number bothered me. Just because it's that milestone," Franchitti said. "But now it feels absolutely no different and I don't care. But it's funny because I've got friends of mine at the same age who in their career are just starting to take off. And I'm sitting here thinking, 'All I ever get asked about is retirement.'"
Indianapolis 500 storylines
GOING FOR FOUR: Defending champion Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves will be trying to win a fourth Indy 500, joining the elite company of A.J. Foyt (1961, '64, '67, '77); Al Unser (1970-71, '78, '87); and Rick Mears (1979, '84, '88, '91). Franchitti won the race in 2007, 2010 and 2012, while Castroneves won it in 2001-02 and '09. "I dream every night about it," Castroneves said, "but there are so many other drivers, unfortunately, that are thinking they want to get their first."
DAY FOR THE USA? Eleven American drivers qualified for the race with two on the front row: pole-sitter Ed Carpenter, a native of Indianapolis, and Marco Andretti, who, like his father and team owner, Michael, has yet to follow family patriarch Mario Andretti, who won the race in 1969. No American has won The Greatest Spectacle in Racing since 2006 when Sam Hornish Jr. beat Andretti to the finish line.
ALLMENDINGER'S REPRIEVE: A little less than a year ago, AJ Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR for violating the organization's substance abuse policy. Team Penske, his NASCAR team owner, put Allmendinger, a former open-wheel driver, in the No. 2 car, and he qualified fifth. "I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have this chance," Allmendinger said.
LADIES DAY: Four women will start in the Indianapolis 500 for just the second time. This year's female starters: Ana Beatriz, Simona De Silvestro, Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann, though de Silvestro's 24th starting position is the best of the four.
PARITY ON THE TRACK: Because of rules changes governing Indy's new car, it's no longer a two-team race between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing. The front row features Carpenter, a single-car team and first owner/driver to win the pole since 1975
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