Dario Franchitti said he regards his third IndyCar title as a greater achievement than last year's crown, as he feels he has had to work harder for his 2010 success.
After emerging on top of a three-way battle with Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe in 2009, this season the Scot overcame a 59-point deficit to Will Power in the final four races to snatch the championship in the Homestead finale on Saturday night.
Franchitti led the majority of the deciding race until Power damaged his suspension in a brush with the wall, after which the Ganassi driver – who only needed 10th place with Power out – switched to a conservative strategy and came home eighth.
"What a great job by this Target [Ganassi] crew, because we had to fight for every single thing this year," said Franchitti, who has now won the IndyCar championship for three of the past four years, only missing out when he made a temporary switch to NASCAR in 2008. We didn't have the performance advantage that we enjoyed last year. Number three feels bloody good."
He said the most challenging part of the decider was when he was trying to be conservative late in the race following Power's retirement.
Until Power's incident, Franchitti had been trying to dominate from the front, but with his championship opponent out of the way, the Ganassi driver became more relaxed about other drivers passing him and changed to a more conservative pit strategy, pitting for a top-up under yellow. That put him down to ninth, and Franchitti said the final laps mid-pack – which included a scare when Milka Duno crashed right in front of him – were much more nerve-wracking than when he had been battling for the lead with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan early on.
"The first part was OK, battling with Scott and TK, that was fine," said the now-three-time champion. "Then we tried to take the cautious approach and save some fuel, and that was getting a little bit too interesting – we got really cautious because took that last pit stop and we were right at the back, and [the cars ahead] were three, four-wide, banging wheels, spinning... It was a bit too action-packed."
Franchitti admitted that the significance of becoming a three-time IndyCar champion had not even begun to sink in.
"I'm not really sure right now, I haven't had chance to take this in," Franchitti replied when asked what the 2010 title meant to him.
"I want to celebrate this moment with the team. My teammate Scott Dixon could not have done anything more today to help me out. The fact that he won the race is really cool. It's a double celebration.
"I've got a lot of friends out there and it's really nice to have that support. There were a lot of guys helping me out today, and when the shoe's on the other foot, I'll be helping them out."