Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ganassi, McMurray Win the Brickyard 400

(Photo: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Ganassi: Winning Truly is Everything

It was sometime in the early 1990s, maybe 1992 I'm guessing. I was sitting in Chip Ganassi's motorcoach at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Arie Luyendyk sitting across the aisle.

Chip was sitting in the captain's chair, turned towards me, the ever-present smile on his face. It was quite an appropriate position, as he was the budding captain of what would become a motorsports racing realm that has continued to grow in each passing year.

Sure, some years have been better than others. And some of those others were nothing but miserable, to say the least, particularly ever since his foray into stock car racing.

But I'll never forget the words Chip said to me that day nearly two decades ago when I asked him why racing was so important to him.

"Vince Lombardi was right, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," Ganassi said.

That sums up why, even with all the ups and downs he's had as a race team owner – particularly with more downs than ups on the NASCAR side of the ledger – Ganassi continues to pursue high achievements in the stock car world.

He's a guy driven by winning and nothing else matters.

And it was Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Floyd Ganassi Jr., aka Chip, not only won a big NASCAR race, he won something that no other team owner has ever accomplished: his drivers captured the Daytona 500 (Jamie McMurray), the Indianapolis 500 (Dario Franchitti) and now the Brickyard 400 (McMurray again) in the same year.

No other owner can boast that. Not a Penske, a Roush, a Gibbs or even a Hendrick.

But Ganassi now can. And it's likely he'll continue to be able to boast that for many more years to come, given that no one else up to now has been able to pull off such a glorious trifecta.

Ever since he purchased controlling interest of Felix Sabates' struggling NASCAR operation in late 2000, Ganassi has never lost faith that one day he'd start to see the kind of success in stock car racing that he has enjoyed in open-wheel racing.

And what a lofty level of success he's had in the open-wheel world, with 50 wins that have led to four straight CART/Champ Car championships from 1996 to 1999, IRL championships in 2003, 2008 and 2009, and three Indy 500 wins (2000, 2008 and earlier this year).

NASCAR success has been another story. Ganassi has faced some lean times, there's no doubt about it. Other owners would have closed up shop, lock, stock and barrel, and moved on.

But not the Chipster. No sir, he was in it to win it. Again, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

Following Sunday's race and with six races to make it, McMurray still has a shot – he's 151 points out of the 12th and final qualifying spot – at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Sadly, teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, currently 22nd, is almost a certainty to fall agonizingly short of making the Chase after being one of the Chasers for the first time last season.

McMurray, who was cast off by Jack Roush at the end of the season – boy, do you think Jack may be kicking himself now at that move, given that the guy Roush kept, David Ragan, is currently in 24th position – has had nothing short of an incredible season.

What makes his story even more remarkable is that McMurray never burned bridges with Ganassi, even after requesting an early exit to his contract following the 2005 season so that he could replace Kurt Busch at Roush Fenway Racing. Sure, Ganassi could have held McMurray to his deal, but that wouldn't have served to help anyone. So, he let McMurray jump to the Roush camp, where he was virtually invisible for four very, very, very long seasons.

And yet, when Roush ultimately told McMurray that there was no longer any room at the Roush Fenway Inn for 2010 due to a NASCAR mandate that RFR had to downsize its holdings from five to four teams, one of the first guys Jamie Mac called was his old boss and still good friend, the Chipster.

Ironically enough, Ganassi, who had joined forces prior to last season with Teresa Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Inc., just so happened to be looking for a driver to replace Martin Truex Jr., who announced he was leaving for Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of 2009 (Truex is 20th in the standings this year in his new environs).

But there was something about McMurray that Ganassi liked, and while other owners would never consider bringing back a former driver into their fold (i.e., Roush one day bringing back Kurt Busch), Ganassi always admired McMurray's Midwest roots and work ethics. They reminded Ganassi of his upbringing in the tough environs of Pittsburgh.

A few more phone calls back and forth and a deal was struck. McMurray was headed back home, back to Chip's racing family.

And look how that ironic twist of fate, to allow McMurray to return to the same organization that he began his Cup career in, has played out. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has won at the two biggest venues in the racing world this season, Daytona and Indy, not only enjoying success like he's never had, but also giving similar success to crew chief Kevin "Bono" Mannion, who chose – a wise choice, it would appear, given how things have gone so far in 2010 – to remain at Ganassi/Earnhardt Racing than to follow Truex to MWR for this season.

Sunday was Chip Ganassi once again at his finest. He had just won at Indy for the fourth time, only this was the first time in a stock car. More importantly, with six more races left before the final 12-man Chase field is locked in, Ganassi is now looking to take his own personal triple crown and go for a fourth major of the year: winning the Chase.

That's right, even though it'll require McMurray to get some big breaks along the way in the next half-dozen events, there's still a good chance McMurray and Ganassi, after teaming up for success at Daytona and now Indy, can add yet another crown jewel to what has been nothing short of an outstanding 2010 season for both men as well as the overall organization.

All it will take is to make the Chase. Chip and Jamie will take it from there. Of course, it would help if they earn another win or two or more in the final six pre-Chase events, but something tells me that after winning Daytona and Indy together, winning at Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and/or Richmond should be a lot easier.

Remember, winning isn't everything. It's the only thing. And Sunday, Chip and Jamie Mac proved just how true that old Lombardi axiom really is, no matter if it's in football, racing or in life.

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