Dario Franchitti said he never expected to come straight back in and win the 2009 championship when he agreed to return to the IndyCar Series this year.
The Scot had left the championship for NASCAR after winning the 2007 title, but when Ganassi had to close Franchitti's Sprint Cup operation due to a lack of finance, he accepted an invitation to switch to the team's IndyCar arm instead.
Last night at Homestead Franchitti clinched his second championship by winning a three-way fight with his teammate Scott Dixon and Penske's Ryan Briscoe, who he beat to victory in the deciding race by stretching his fuel mileage to avoid a fourth stop while his rivals battled flat-out and had to pit again late on.
"I didn't think I'd win five races and a championship in my first year back," said Franchitti. "I knew driving for team Target [Ganassi], I'd have good equipment, just a question of could I get back into it and compete at a level that I had already.
"Scott is a better driver than he was in '07, and Ryan came in [at the front] every single week, as well as other people who made appearances and won races, but it just seemed that Scott and Ryan every week were tough competition. From winning in the second race at Long Beach, I knew we could get it done."
He said the second title was more satisfying than the first as there had still been separate Champ Car and IndyCar championships in 2007.
"In '07 there was a lot of satisfaction in getting that one done," said Franchitti. "I think what makes it sweeter [in '09] 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 beat Scott Dixon, you've had a great day. But you've got to push like hell to get one over on him."
Franchitti said team boss Chip Ganassi had sought assurances that he was sufficiently motivated to return to Indy cars, having previously been adamant that NASCAR was his future.
"I've got to thank Chip and those boys," said the champion. "He sat me down and grilled me pretty hard in Detroit: Why do I want to come back to IndyCar? Was I up for the challenge and ready to do it again and give 100 percent?
"I'm just glad they invited me back to come and play. I really enjoyed it. I wanted to be part of the unified series, the places we get to race at and the people I get to race against and the cars I get to drive. It's pretty cool."
He added that he was now thoroughly settled in the IndyCar Series, but still thinks he gained from his abortive NASCAR move.
"I wouldn't change anything, and I've said that all along," Franchitti said. "I got to go do something completely different, have a bit of a holiday and realize what I was missing and come back – and come back with the best team in the paddock.
"I learned things as a driver. To drive in stock car, I got out of my comfort zone, and I learned a lot of new things, and there are things that I can apply to IndyCar. That's made me a better driver, I think.
"I'm absolutely where I should be. I should be in Indy cars. That is what I grew up to do, race in the IndyCar Series."