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Dario is the CHAMP
By Roy Schmidt, Milwaukee 2009
By Roy Schmidt, Milwaukee 2009
October 14th 2009 - HOMESTEAD, Fla. -
By Dave Lewandowski -

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - For the second night in a row, Dario Franchitti was dripping wet during an awards ceremony.

After claiming his second IndyCar Series championship in a pressure-packed and thrilling race at steamy Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver picked up the hardware and monetary prizes totaling more than $1.1 million during the Indy Racing League Championship Celebration at the new W Hotel on South Beach.

Holding the awards portion of the lively evening poolside, it was a given that either the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car crew or friends would plot a dunking. Franchitti, who conducted multiple media interviews earlier in the day near the shimmering pool, appeared wise to the shenanigans at the close of the program.

Strapping on the diamond-encrusted Ritmo Mundo timepiece -- one of the champion's prizes -- he said, "Is it waterproof?"

Fortunately, IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe waited until the $100,000 gift was handed off.

"It's warmer than I thought it would be," Franchitti laughed before excusing himself to change instead of drying in the warm ocean breeze during the extended social time.

Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations divisions of the Indy Racing League, sanctioning body of the IndyCar Series, presented Franchitti with a $1 million championship bonus check and a mini IndyCar Series championship trophy. A mini IndyCar Series championship trophy also was awarded to Target Chip Ganassi Racing owner Chip Ganassi.

"In '07, there was a lot of satisfaction in getting that one done, and now to come back from where we were a year ago is very satisfying," said Franchitti, who used deft fuel strategy to beat teammate Dixon and Team Penske's Briscoe to win the Firestone Indy 300 and clinch the championship. "The depth of the competition has increased significantly with the unified series. I think that's what makes it sweeter is we've got everybody together, and you've got a more balanced schedule as well.

"That gives me really a lot of satisfaction, having to beat guys like ‑‑ look down the list. Look at the drivers we're competing against, Ryan and certainly Scott at the top of that. To beat those guys and to beat Scott on team equipment, you've had a great year."

Franchitti recorded five victories in his first IndyCar Series season with the team. He entered the finale five points behind the front-running Dixon and three ahead of Briscoe in the standings, and needed to win the 200-lap race to clinch the championship.

"When you look back at the season, I'm the luckiest owner in the paddock," said Ganassi, whose team won 10 of the 17 races. "I've got two great drivers; I've got a great sponsor -- a great partner -- in Target. Just everything goes together, and especially in these times."

In addition to the championship bonus, Franchitti accepted the $10,000 Bosch Platinum Award and the champion's timepiece from Ritmo Mundo. Kevin O'Donnell, chief mechanic for Franchitti's car accepted the IndyCar Series Chief Mechanic of the Year Award.

Raphael Matos of Luczo Dragon Racing accepted the $25,000 Apex-Brasil Rookie of the Year Award. Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Team Penske car, won the Raybestos Road & Street Challenge, while Dan Wheldon of Panther Racing was awarded the Xtrac Championship Award and its $5,000 prize. Graham Rahal of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing received the Tony Renna Rising Star Award.

J.R. Hildebrand accepted the mini Firestone Firehawk Cup for winning that series championship.

IndyCar Series award winners

Championship driver: Dario Franchitti
Herff Jones Championship Driver Award (ring valued at $5,000): Dario Franchitti
Ritmo Mundo Championship Driver Award (diamond watch valued at $100,000): Dario Franchitti
Canon Championship Award (Prize package valued at $2,000): Dario Franchitti and Kevin O'Donnell
Championship team: Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Championship team sponsor: Target Chip Ganassi Club
Championship team managers: Scott Harner and Barry Wanser
Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Kevin O'Donnell
Apex-Brasil Rookie of the Year Award ($25,000): Raphael Matos
Second place championship driver: Scott Dixon
Second place championship team: Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Third place championship driver: Ryan Briscoe
Third place championship team: Team Penske
BOSCH Platinum Award ($10,000 for highest-finishing driver using Bosch spark plugs): Dario Franchitti
Raybestos Road & Street Course Challenge: Ryan Briscoe
Xtrac Championship Award ($5,000 for driver who won most Xtrac Awards during 2009): Dan Wheldon
Manufacturer Recognition Awards: Honda, Firestone, Delphi, Dallara, Xtrac, and K&N Filters
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