Franchitti ran just 10 Cup races — his best finish was 22nd — before team owner Chip Ganassi pulled the plug because of the sponsorship issues.
"I went in there with my eyes somewhat closed, I should have done my homework and driven the car before I went," Franchitti said. "With the Cup car, I struggled to get the hang of what the car needed to drive it. It was difficult to adapt to, and I think it would have taken a bit more time. I'd ask Jimmie what do you do here? And he'd tell me, and I'd think 'I can't do what you do.'"
Franchitti doesn't regret giving it a try, and points out he wouldn't have been able to return the next year to IndyCar with Ganassi, where he's won another Indy 500 and three consecutive championships, if he hadn't partnered with the team owner for the NASCAR ride.
"I was also able to learn some things about myself; all of a sudden I was running nowhere near what I was used to, and I had to dig deep for any sort of performance," he said. "I had to take some lumps along the way, it made me a bit stronger. And I realized I didn't get thrill from it that I get from driving IndyCar."
Johnson hasn't had a chance to try IndyCar, and a promise to his wife not to race anything that lacks a roof has stalled his dream of ever running the Indy 500. But he is hopeful that he can one day at least experience an Indycar in a closed-course test.
"There is a void there, and Dario has been helpful and encouraging for me to come give it a shot," Johnson said. "I have a lot of friends in the sport, they've always talked about it, and I would love that chance. I grew up wanting to be an IndyCar driver."
Should Johnson ever get into an IndyCar, Franchitti wants to be present "just to see Jimmie's face after the first few laps." Beyond that, he thinks both he and Johnson will be just fine with their current jobs.
"I am back in IndyCar doing what I should be doing and what I want to be doing," Franchitti said. "We're both doing exactly what we should be doing."
And in a sense, they get to live vicariously through each other. Johnson was criticized last year for saying IndyCar should abandon ovals following the death of Dan Wheldon in an accident at Las Vegas, but the many active drivers he knows understood his comments were out of concern for his friends.
So as he heads into this Sunday's race, he encourages his NASCAR fans to check out Franchitti and the Indy 500.
"For the longest time, as NASCAR was trying to outgrow IndyCar, or be bigger than them, there were some hardcore fans who took the stance, 'I'm just NASCAR, or I'm just IndyCar,'" Johnson said. "I don't subscribe to that, and I think that is fading. If motorsports is strong, it's because all of the series are strong. We're all race fans, and the reason I watch is because I like it."
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