Franchitti in, Wheldon out at Target Chip Ganassi Racing

INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) - Scott Dixon will have a new teammate for the 2009 IndyCar Series season.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing announced Tuesday that former IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti will replace Dan Wheldon in the No. 10 Target Honda for the upcoming season.

Terms of the multi-year deal were not disclosed.

Franchitti, who left the IndyCar Series after winning the title in 2007 to drive for Ganassi in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide circuits, has over 180 starts under his belt between the CART and IndyCar Series, resulting in 18 wins, 17 poles, 63 top-five and 95 top-10 finishes.

“It is going to be very exciting to have Dario in one of our IndyCars next year,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “I have always admired his competitive spirit when he raced against us and have really grown to see more of what he is about this season while he raced in NASCAR.

“When there was a possibility of an opening on our IndyCar team, the only person I thought about was Dario. This is going to be a great move for Dario and for our team.”

Franchitti struggled in his first season of driving stock cars. In 15 Cup starts this season, his best finish was a 22nd at Martinsville. He also posted a career-best finish of sixth place at Las Vegas in 11 Nationwide starts.

Franchitti also suffered a broken ankle during a multi-car accident at Talladega Superspeedway, and shortly afterward his Sprint Cup team was shut down due to lack of solid sponsorship.

“Part of the reason that I signed with Ganassi last year was because of how many options that Chip has at his disposal for a driver. You can do almost any form of racing that you want,” Franchitti said. “With unification and the new schedule having more road and street courses, it made me think about this more and more.

“I have really enjoyed this last season in stock cars and have not completely closed that chapter of my professional career, but the opportunity that arose was just something I could not pass up. I am really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of one of those Target cars and be a teammate to Scott Dixon.”

Ironically, Franchitti claimed the 2007 IndyCar championship when he passed Dixon, who ran out of fuel, on the final turn of the final race at Chicago.

Dixon can claim this year’s title by finishing eighth or better in Sunday’s season finale in Chicago.

Wheldon currently sits fourth in the IndyCar standings after finishing 20th at Detroit last week. He won the 2005 IndyCar championship for Andretti Green Racing, then joined Ganassi in 2006 and finished second and fourth the past two seasons.

It did not take long for Wheldon to find a new ride. The Brit announced Tuesday that he reached a multi-year agreement to drive for Panther Racing, the same team he broke into the IndyCar series with six years ago.

Wheldon signed with Panther Racing originally in 2002 under a testing agreement. It was later the same year, at Chicagoland, that Wheldon made his debut for Panther, driving the No. 15 Pennzoil sponsored entry and finishing 10th.

“I’m very excited to be joining the entire Panther Racing crew,” Wheldon said. “This is the place where I started my career in 2002 and with the personnel and leadership that John Barnes has put together, I know that we’ll be fighting for outright victories, the Indianapolis 500 title and the league championship.

“I’m looking forward to when my obligations with my current team have been honored, so I can get with the entire Panther family and start moving towards all of our goals of winning races and championships together. It’s great to be back.”

For his career, Wheldon has amassed 15 victories, 54 top-fives and 72 top-10s in 96 starts. His 15 wins rank him third all-time in IndyCar Series history.

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Updated Tuesday, Sep 2, 2008