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Franchitti finishes 17th, learns lessons in first ARCA race

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- It took Dario Franchitti less than a
straightaway to know he was in foreign territory Friday at
Talladega Superspeedway.

The reigning IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner
saw the green flag wave for the start of Friday's ARCA RE/MAX 250,
his stock car debut, and immediately ran out of room on the
highbanked 2.66-mile oval.

"You can't pass on the left in this kind of racing like you can
in IndyCar and people checked up in front of me on the start and I
had nowhere to go," Franchitti said, grinning. "That was my first
learning experience and it continued all day."

The 34-year-old Scot, driving his first race for new employer
Chip Ganassi, managed to stay out of trouble throughout the 94-lap
event and wound up 17th.

"It was a lot of fun out there," he said. "I'm disappointed
with the result. But what I've learned, I don't think you can put a
price on it. I learned so much today. I'm looking at the long game,
I'm looking at next year."

The Scot, who signed a multiyear contract Wednesday to replace
David Stremme in Ganassi's No. 40 Cup entry, had never even sat in
a stock car until earlier this week.

Franchitti qualified sixth Thursday but had to start from the
rear of the 41-car field after his crew changed the engine in his
No. 42 Dodge. He was 36th by the end of the first lap and got as
high as eighth before falling back into the pack.

"That was probably because I really messed up the first pit
stop," he said. "That was the biggest mistake I made all day. I
let the [engine revs] get too low and couldn't get the car turning
when I got to my pit.

"Then there's a point there when I got in the right lane [in
the draft] every time and a point when I got in the wrong line
every time. That's just experience."

It was not quite as stirring a debut as another former
open-wheel star and new teammate Juan Pablo Montoya's third-place
run in this same race last year. But Franchitti, who next season
will be the first European to race in NASCAR's top series
full-time, wasn't complaining.

"I'm relieved I didn't do anything stupid, definitely,"
Franchitti said. "I'm really happy with what I learned. I'm
disappointed with the result. But it's a start. From now until the
start of next season is a very intensive learning period, and then
it's going to start all over again.

"It's a funny position to be in when you've done 11 years of
open-wheel racing over here in Champ Car and IndyCar and you come
back and do something completely different. It's been a while since
I've been in this position. It's fun."

Montoya, who came to stock car racing from Formula One, went on
from this event to race in several NASCAR Busch Series races and
make his Cup debut at the end of last season before moving to Cup
full-time in February. Franchitti, expected to do the same kind of
apprenticeship, said he doesn't know what's next.

"I'm going to stay here this weekend and just get on the radio
and listen to the Cup guys and ask a lot of questions," he said.
"Next week, I think the team will decide what we're going to do."

Franchitti was outshone on Friday by another open-wheel refugee,
Scott Speed, who finished seventh in his first stock car start.

Speed, the only American in Formula One before being let go
earlier this season by the Scuderia Toro Rossa team, qualified
seventh, got as high as third and was never out of the top 15.

The race was won by Bill Davis Racing rookie Michael Annett, who
dominated, leading 75 laps on the way to giving Toyota its first
ARCA win in his first superspeedway race.

Frank Kimmel finished second, all but locking up his ninth
series title with one race remaining. Points runner-up Michael
McDowell, another rookie, was caught up in a five-car cash and
finished 32nd.