(AP) - Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was released from a Houston hospital Thursday, four days after fracturing his spine and breaking his right ankle in an IndyCar Series crash.
"I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and I'm thankful to have such a great family and such wonderful friends and fans. Thanks to everyone at the hospital and the track who took such good care of me during my stay in Houston," Franchitti said in a statement.
Franchitti was headed back to Indianapolis for further evaluation and will eventually have a second surgery on his ankle. He underwent surgery Sunday night to stabilize his ankle following the accident on the last lap of the Grand Prix of Houston.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing released a photo of the four-time series champion before he left the hospital. Franchitti was smiling, surrounded by his two dogs, and aided by a walker. His right leg was in a cast and he was wearing a heavy brace around his torso.
He will be replaced by Alex Tagliani in the No. 10 Honda in the Oct. 19 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where teammate Scott Dixon will be trying to win his third IndyCar championship.
"I look forward to watching Scott, Alex and the Target team next weekend on television, and will be pulling for them as they go for another championship," Franchitti said.
Dixon joked Thursday that Franchitti had gotten use of his phone again, "so that's a good sign. He seems to be in good spirits," and has mentioned trying to come to Fontana to watch the race. Although he's glad the team picked Tagliani to as a replacement driver, Dixon said he'd have liked to have his longtime teammate in the car next week.
"I would have liked Dario to be there and to be in fighting spirits and helping me win the championship," Dixon said. "I think Tag was a solid choice. As a team, the drivers and myself, we don't have much control in situations like that. I think they picked the best guy. I'm great friends with Tag. We hang out a fair bit, and it makes it an easy transition."
Dixon takes a 25-point lead over Helio Castroneves into the finale. He was down 49 points going into last weekend's doubleheader at Houston, where he won the first race and finished second on Sunday.
Castroneves said Franchitti was slow to respond this week to e-mails from drivers, but is finally communicating.
"He mentioned that he is on a lot of painkillers, so he's not feeling so much," Castroneves said Thursday. "He is joking right now he's not feeling much. But we are very glad- I mean, it could be more serious than that."
Franchitti was injured when his car made contact with Takuma Sato's car in Turn 5 and sailed into the fence. It tore a section of fencing out before his car bounced back onto the track. Debris scattered into the grandstand, injuring 13 fans and an IndyCar official.
Castroneves said the fence at Reliant Park worked in that it kept Franchitti's car inside the course. Dixon praised the new DW-12 car, introduced last season.
"What the car went through and how Dario's crash sort of played out, you know, he was lucky. The car did exactly what it should have," Dixon said. "Having seen the car after the wreck, it's done its job. I think we definitely saw the advantages of some of the safety things that have been added to the cars throughout the years, and IndyCar is as always ever pushing on and trying to make them safer, and they are.
"But still reality, man. It's racing, fast cars, and some tricky positions sometimes."
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