Two months after turning a surprise, inverted, aerial IndyCar Series trick at Kentucky Speedway, Dario Franchitti returned to the track on Halloween to treat himself to a stock car test with his new Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team.

Franchitti won his first IndyCar Series championship this season by charting four wins, including one in the rain-soaked Indianapolis 500, 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 17 events during his fourth full campaign with Andretti Green Racing (AGR). Soon after collecting more than $4 million in earnings, he announced plans to race the No. 40 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series machine fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates full time in 2008.

"I had talked about doing some stock car stuff last year quite a bit. I wasn't sure it would happen, but the timing was just right, having been able to win the 500 and the championship. It was time to do something different and Chip's phone call was perfectly timed," Franchitti said.

The Scottish-born, 38-year-old driver raced a stock car for the first time in a 250-mile battle at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 5 and placed 17th. He made his NASCAR debut Oct. 20 with a 33rd-place Craftsman Truck Series showing at Martinsville Speedway and closed out his first tour of duty in a NASCAR Busch Series machine 32nd after qualifying third at Memphis Motorsports Park Oct. 27.

"Driving the Busch car has come easier than driving the (NEXTEL Cup) COT (Car of Tomorrow). I've tested the COT at Atlanta in the group test yesterday and Monday. I found that very, very difficult. I've still got a long way to go in that. Driving the Busch car, I've been getting into that. The result wasn't very good in Memphis, but we qualified third and were running right up front all day until we had a (brake) problem. That's been a little bit easier. It's a challenge. That's what I wanted and I've definitely got that," Franchitti said.

Today's test provided him an understandably different feel at a facility where he registered three top-10 IndyCar finishes in five career starts, but proved helpful to increasing his stock-car comfort level.

"I feel fairly comfortable today in this car, I think it's an ARCA car. I think the COT is going to take a bit longer to get comfortable in because it's so different. With the big, high center of gravity there's just no grip with the thing so I was kind of thrown off the deep end in Atlanta having never driven a Cup car of any kind. It showed me how far I've got to go.

"IndyCar and stock car on this track - it's completely different. There are completely different lines. With IndyCar we're probably using a third of the track. With the stock car, we're using every inch of it. The IndyCar is a lot faster, but the impression in the stock car is equally as good because when you're on the limit of the performance of the car, anything feels quick.

"It's interesting to have to deal with the changes - the tires wear, the balance of the car changes and the weather dictates the balance of the car and its performance. I'm getting used to making all the adjustments and what the adjustments do. It's all very different," Franchitti said.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates NASCAR Busch Series Program Manager Brian Pattie presided over today's test and has been Franchitti's point person during his transition.

Pattie said the primary goal of today's test was to provide Franchitti with a variety of experiences in the car.

"We set up a schedule trying to get him a lot of laps in different cars at different facilities he hadn't seen before. Memphis was one, Martinsville was one and obviously Talladega," Pattie said. "The main challenge is to understand the way he delivers information. He's always had engineering and the telemetry telling the guys in the garage what was happening (with the car) before he told them. NASCAR is highly regulated and telemetry is only allowed during tests, so we're trying to give him the feedback telemetry-wise versus what he's feeling. Even if we change something and we know it's the wrong, we want to show him what it's like. That's our biggest goal."

Overall, he gave his organization's new driver high marks on the day.

"He's raced here at Kentucky and adapted pretty quick this morning. The more laps he runs the better he gets. We can take all this information from today and transfer it to Texas this week. The idea is to get him laps, but it's also to run well," he added.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~