By JENNA FRYER, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — They've got nine championships between them and a combined five victories on the single most prolific day of racing of the year.
Dario Franchitti and Jimmie Johnson also share a friendship, even if it's from afar. They follow each other's races, text back and forth during the season and give the public a glimpse of their mutual admiration via Twitter.
"Well done (at)JimmieJohnson on the race last night, massively impressive," Franchitti tweeted following Johnson's victory in NASCAR's All-Star race on Saturday night.
They are, for the most part, the most decorated drivers over the last six years from their respective series.
Johnson's record run of five consecutive Sprint Cup titles was snapped last season, but Franchitti won his third-straight title to make it four championships in the last five IndyCar seasons.
"We keep threatening to drink some beers together to celebrate all these championships," Johnson said.
Both will be on the center stage Sunday for the biggest day of motorsports.
It begins early for Franchitti, who will watch on television as cousin Paul di Resta races in Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix. Franchitti's turn comes before lunch, when he will attempt to win his third Indianapolis 500.
Johnson will be watching from his motorhome at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he will try for his fourth Coca-Cola 600 victory Sunday night.
"I catch the start, it's on every television at Charlotte Motor Speedway," Johnson said. "Then you go do your hospitality and sponsor events, the driver meeting and usually as I get back, I'm lucky enough to catch the finish."
Franchitti knows no matter how his day goes in Indy, he'll be in front of the television before the night is over.
"Of course you go see what Jimmie and the boys are up to," he said.
The racing community can be small sometimes, even though it spans the globe. Drivers cross paths coming up through the ranks — Danica Patrick and Sam Hornish Jr. raced go-karts against each other as kids, both made it to IndyCar and both now race against each other full-time in NASCAR's Nationwide Series — and make friendships that carry far beyond the track.
Franchitti and Johnson, in a conference call with The Associated Press, recalled how their friendship began.
They met in 2005, when Johnson was teammates with Franchitti's little brother, Marino, in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race. Marino introduced Johnson to his brother, and before the event was over, a group of six or so drivers had spent an evening together at the local dog track.
"I got to know Marino first, and I felt like getting to know Marino, they can't be too different," Johnson said. "If I can connect with Marino, then I can connect with Dario. And I wanted to, I rooted for Dario before I knew him. I'd watched him for a lot of years, and I always appreciated his passion and the way he carried himself.
"Dario's always been that guy for me in open-wheel."
Despite different backgrounds — Johnson grew up in Southern California, Franchitti in Scotland — the two both ooze cool, and they have an appreciation for the finer things in life. Johnson married former model Chandra Janway, Franchitti is married to actress Ashley Judd. But in racing, both are lauded for their on-track accomplishments and off-track professionalism.
"I like the way Jimmie goes racing. I like the way he controls the car, and the ways he just has two sides," Franchitti said. "What he does on track is just phenomenal, but I also like the way he conducts himself off the track. We have similar attitude in that regard.
"And the fact that he won five championships in a row, I think it says a lot about him. To find the motivation to win two or three, but then to go and do five and still be hungry for more, it's unbelievable. He one of racing's good guys. One of the best on and off the track."
Franchitti got to see it firsthand in 2008, when he left IndyCar for NASCAR. He'd won his first Indy 500 and series championship the year before, and slid over to stock cars for a new challenge. It was a short-lived experiment for Franchitti, who broke his ankle in an accident at Talladega and ultimately fell victim to the economic downturn and sponsorship woes.