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Ganassi: Franchitti heartbroken over retirement

Saturday - 11/16/2013, 2:06am  ET

FILE - In this May 30, 2010, file photo, Dario Franchitti, center, of Scotland, celebrates at the start-finish line with his wife Ashley Judd, and car owner Chip Ganassi, right, after winning the Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, that doctors have told him he can no longer race because of injuries sustained in an IndyCar crash last month. He fractured his spine, broke his right ankle and suffered a concussion in the Oct. 6 crash at Houston. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) -- In the six years Dario Franchitti had been driving for Chip Ganassi, he had only phoned his boss once from his home in Scotland.

When Ganassi got a call this week, and heard the tone in Franchitti's voice, he knew something was off.

"The first thing out of my mouth was, 'What's wrong?'" Ganassi said Friday.

Franchitti was calling to deliver difficult news: Doctors had told him it was too dangerous to continue racing because of injuries he sustained in an Oct. 6 crash at Houston when his car sailed into a fence. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner fractured his spine, broke his ankle and suffered a concussion that day.

The threat of another concussion put Franchitti at too great a risk to continue racing, Ganassi said. Franchitti reluctantly announced his retirement Thursday.

"He was certainly heartbroken," Ganassi said. "He's a bit of a realist about it, too. I went through all the obvious questions. He said, 'Look, I don't want to go forward. I'd never want to go forward and risk hurting somebody else or risk further injury, much less hurt somebody else.' He wouldn't dare risk giving a black eye to the sport or something by trying some sort of end around. That was out of the question. He respects professionals."

Franchitti had two surgeries on his broken ankle, one in Houston and one in Indianapolis, before traveling in the last two weeks to Miami to see IndyCar consultant Dr. Steve Olvey. The 40-year-old Franchitti then returned home to Scotland to continue his recovery.

He was in Scotland when he was advised to stop. Olvey, the associate professor of Clinical Neurology/Neurosurgery at the University of Miami-Miller School of Medicine, told RACER.com that Franchitti has suffered three concussions since 2002 and the one at Houston "was a big one, a significant concussion.

"He's got a higher risk for future concussions with less energy involved in a crash," Olvey told RACER. "And, as we've seen in pro football, repeated concussions can lead to early dementia, so he's got to think of his future. It's just too great a risk to take."

Ganassi said Franchitti will heal.

"Medically he has been told he'll make a 100 percent recovery, we've been told that from day one," Ganassi said. "These are all injuries that are recoverable. I don't want anybody thinking he's maimed for life."

But he won't be in the No. 10 Target car again, and Ganassi is now searching for a driver. He said he will field four cars next year, but isn't sure if moving defending Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan into Franchitti's car is an option; Kanaan was signed last month with different sponsors.

Ganassi, who had passed on signing James Hinchcliffe last month, now has to see who might be available.

"The obvious question is, do you go with a proven talent in that car or do you go with a young up-and-comer?" Ganassi said. "We've always taken the best driver that's available at the time. That car is part of a team that for years has run at the front of the pack, and everything that goes along with running at the front in terms of scoring points for championships and helping teammates win championships. That's not always the best position for a young, up-and-coming driver to come into. I'm not saying it can't be done, but we have to look at all available options right now."

Ganassi said replacement drivers has not been a priority this week as the organization has been attending to Franchitti, who said in his announcement he wants to remain involved with IndyCar in some capacity.

Franchitti's retirement was still reverberating through the sport. Jimmie Johnson, who goes for his sixth NASCAR championship Sunday, said he feels horrible for his good friend.

"In one light, it shows just how bad his crash was. I'm just happy he is in good health," Johnson said. "My heart goes out to him from the perspective of having racing taken from him before it was time. That's got to be so tough to deal with. Everyone wants to walk away on their terms."

Formula One driver Jenson Button said Franchitti made "the right decision" and praised his friend for his career accomplishments -- even if he's not properly recognized in Europe for his achievements.

"He's a long way away from Europe and a lot of American motorsport doesn't really get the credit in Europe," Button said at the U.S. Grand Prix. "It is what it is. It's just a long way away. I don't think it matters how many compliments he gets. He knows what he's achieved and the people he cares about know as well. A very impressive career and he's a great guy as well."

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