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From the Notebook: Franchitti comfortable echoing Johnson, forecasting Patrick

October 13, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Franchitti echoing Johnson, forecasts Patrick; good times for Hendrick

Dario Franchitti's got plenty on his mind this weekend, as he tries to capture his third consecutive IndyCar championship -- all of which, coincidentally, came after he returned to the open-wheel ranks following a short-lived 2008 foray into NASCAR.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Franchitti, who's starting to resemble an open-wheel version of five-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, is Franchitti's former teammate, friend and competitor Danica Patrick.

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This weekend Patrick, whose entire career up until the end of 2009 was geared around open-wheel cars and winning the Indianapolis 500, makes her final IndyCar start for the foreseeable future. Patrick plans to run the final three Nationwide Series races of 2011 for JR Motorsports before she embarks on a full-time Nationwide, part-time Sprint Cup schedule in 2012, with the latter being in Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

"I think she's gone about it in a more controlled manner, trying to do that half-schedule, with Nationwide and IndyCar, which I think is tough for her, on the IndyCar side," Franchitti said of Patrick. "I think going back and forth hurt her on the IndyCar side, but moving forward, I think the way she did it will be a massive help.

"What will her biggest challenge be? I don't know her situation there, but obviously she's going to be in good equipment with JR Motorsports [because] they've always put good stuff on the track. So the Nationwide thing, I think she could do real well there, and I'm going to watch that with a lot of interest and I'm really hoping she does well.

"Watching her driving the Nationwide car this year she's obviously become a lot more comfortable and competitive this year than she was last year, so when she focuses on it full time -- like I said, she's surrounded by good people and stuff so who knows what could happen?"

Franchitti dabbled in both NASCAR series in 2008 and was handicapped by lack of sponsorship and cars that weren't among the best Dodges in the field. He did finish better than more experienced Ganassi Racing teammate Reed Sorenson in three of the first seven races he ran. But even though the experience was cut short after only 10 races, it gives Franchitti a basis of perspective.

"I think the Sprint Cup will be more difficult, definitely," Franchitti said of the aspect of Patrick's NASCAR foray that has very few details at this moment. "The competition is that much higher and the cars are harder to drive, I would say, than a Nationwide car so I think that will be tough for her.

"But for me, I think she did exactly what's best for her. The IndyCar thing hasn't worked out and the results haven't been anywhere close to what she had hoped. As the series gets more competitive again, with the 50-50 balance of road courses, she hasn't had those results that she'd like and I can see her getting more frustrated. I think the Nationwide thing will be very good for her and the Sprint Cup thing is going to be a challenge -- but I hope that she does very, very well."

For Franchitti, his personal comfort level rests in what's most familiar. That may not include any more NASCAR exploration.

"For me, the challenge is right where I am -- in the IndyCar Series," Franchitti said. "It's going to [Las Vegas] this weekend and trying to win, going there and trying to get the absolute maximum out of everything we've got at our disposal. And to me, that challenge is the same every weekend, and that's really what does it for me."

Franchitti resembles Johnson in one key way: He's totally focused on achieving this championship, not at where he fits in the larger scheme of history.

"I don't look at the big picture," Franchitti said. "For me, I've got to keep my focus very tight. I think this is something we've seen happen, whether it's in NASCAR or Formula One, with different drivers. When these things are happening you're so busy and so focused on them -- you might enjoy them and look back with pride later -- but right now we're in the trenches."

That sounds exactly like ol' "Five-time," to me.

Hendrick happy on several fronts

Needless to say, owner Rick Hendrick was enjoying Hendrick Motorsports' 199th NASCAR victory last weekend at Kansas, after Johnson won and continued to roll toward the front of the Cup standings. But Hendrick, who estimated he had nine new-car dealerships in the greater Kansas City area, was looking forward to an even better Monday when he planned to visit several of his local stores -- which he'd also done before race weekend.

After he'd completed Kansas' Victory Lane celebration, Hendrick chuckled when he was congratulated on purchasing his first dealership in Volusia County, Fla. Hendrick's Honda Cars of Daytona Beach is the former Jon Hall Honda on Nova Road -- about a mile from NASCAR's headquarters across from Daytona International Speedway.

Hendrick was asked in the post-race media briefing about the importance of winning to the Chevrolet brand. "It's huge," he said, but even more important seems to be the Hendrick brand, and the owner said his immediate experience in Daytona Beach proved that.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported the deal to purchase the Honda dealership was completed on Sept. 30. One week later Hendrick said "they sold 41 cars in the first five days -- they'd sold 38, total, in the previous month." Hendrick said the previous owner's record month was "98 cars sold -- we're looking at possibly selling more than 100 in our first month."

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Blaney juggling several levels of positive pressure

Dave Blaney did some good work earlier this year to race Tommy Baldwin Racing's Chevrolet into the top 35 in Cup owners' points. All the while, he was trying to have a hand in the development career of his son, Ryan Blaney, who's seen as one of the best developing talents on the horizon, according to no less an authority than driver/team owner Kevin Harvick. That doesn't make anything any easier for Dave when plotting Ryan's moves.

"I wish, with Ryan a lot of the times, I didn't have my dad hat on," Blaney said. "It makes it harder to make decisions maybe on what to do or where to go or what path to go down, sometimes."

A couple of Ryan Blaney's recent starts in the CRA Super Series for Super Late Models put him third at Gresham Motorsports Park behind veteran late-model racer Bubba Pollard but ahead of a raft of development talent including Chase Elliott, Johanna Long and Ross Kenseth; and eighth at O'Reilly Raceway Park in a race won by Kenzie Ruston, where Elliott repaid the favor by finishing fifth.

"I don't hesitate to call other racers and people that I know and trust, to get their opinion," Dave Blaney said of his efforts. "It's funny to get their opinion on my kid, but I respect a lot of peoples' opinions on this kind of stuff. So I do that.

"I want to do all I can for him, but I don't want to do the wrong thing, either. The way I look at it with Ryan, is if I put him in a good opportunity, he's got to do the rest. And he's got the job done so far in every place we've put him, so I don't expect any different -- but they're kids, so you never know."

Goodyear has Smith smiling?

Goodyear will run the same tire combination this weekend at Charlotte in both the Cup and Nationwide races -- and it's the same package as it used at Charlotte during its May race weeks. Goodyear's race week notes also said the right-side tires are the same as used at Darlington in the spring.

Regan Smith of Furniture Row Racing has to be one guy that's smiling about that. Smith's No. 78 Chevrolet won at Darlington and then was eighth in the Coca-Cola 600.

Every spot counts

Last weekend at Kansas, while he was racing his guts out to come back for a fifth-place finish, Carl Edwards joked afterward about the difficulty in seeing Kansas Speedway's scoreboard while racing. Even though he downplayed it, he knew how much his last-lap pass of Kevin Harvick meant -- at least in the short term.

"Yeah, you can't really focus too much on [scoreboard watching and where you're running]," Edwards said. "You've got to run your own race, as painful as it is. But that last pass of Kevin, that meant a lot -- we both knew it, too. We both knew since we were tied [in points coming into Kansas] whoever finished first would be ahead one point. That was good that we were able to do that."

Edwards said leading the points this short week, as practice and qualifying for Charlotte's Bank of America 500 are Thursday, was good for team morale "even though it doesn't mean much. That can change in a heartbeat."