Despite scary crashes, Franchitti still leads

? IndyCar Series points leader Dario Franchitti realizes this already has been the luckiest season of his racing career.

And that good fortune has led him to some positive on-track results and kept him out of the hospital when things have gone wrong.

In May when the 34-year-old Scotsman was out front when the Indianapolis 500 was cut short by rain, giving him his first victory in the biggest open-wheel event of all.

But even more importantly, he walked away with only a bruised nose from a terrifying, upside-down crash at 220 mph three weeks ago on the oval at Michigan International Speedway.

Then, just six days later at Kentucky Speedway, Franchitti was equally lucky.

Unaware that the checkered flag had come out, he gave new meaning to the nickname “Flying Scot,” taking another soaring trip through the air when he ran over the rear of a slowing Kosuke Matsuura. Franchitti came away embarrassed but without injury after slamming wheels-first into the wall.

“I am well aware I’ve been lucky this year,” Franchitti said Friday after finishing the opening day of practice for the Motorola Indy 300 at Infineon Raceway second on the speed chart to Helio Castroneves.

Franchitti began the season with a seventh-place finish at Homestead and then ran off 11 consecutive top-five finishes, including three wins, before winding up 13th at Michigan and eighth at Kentucky.

“As a friend of mine said the other day, ‘You expect a perfect season?’ He made a good point,” Franchitti said.

“For a while, people kept asking me, ‘Is this good luck going to continue? Is this good luck going to continue?’ Well, there’s all kinds of good luck.”

Add it all up and Franchitti, who has led the IndyCar Series points since finishing second at Milwaukee the week after the Indy 500, goes into Sunday’s race the Sonoma road course holding a tenuous 8-point lead over 2003 series champion Scott Dixon with three races remaining.

For Franchitti, who has never won a title in a major open-wheel series, this championship would be a major accomplishment.

He came agonizingly close in 1999 when he tied with Juan Pablo Montoya for the points lead in the CART series, but lost the title on a tiebreaker because the Colombian driver had more wins.

But, no matter what happens over the final three races of this season, Franchitti expects to be satisfied because he has already achieved his biggest goal: winning Indy.

“The Indianapolis 500 is such a big part of our season and, when Dan (Wheldon) and I were teammates together, he would show up at the track and would always be talking about Indy, Indy, Indy,” Franchitti said. “That was I guess when I started to get this passion for the 500 because I saw how much it meant to him and some of the other guys.

“Does it overshadow the season? Yeah, for sure. But there’s something to be said for being the person who does the best on all different types of tracks, especially since the street courses have come in and now we have them and short ovals and two-milers and all these different tracks.”

This has been a season of streaks. Target Chip Ganassi driver Dixon, who once trailed Franchitti by 65 points, won three straight to boost himself into title contention. Tony Kanaan has won the last two races and is now third in the standings.