Grumpy to grinning: Daytona win sweet for Ganassi

February 17, 2010|By Tania Ganguli | Tribune Newspapers

Several joking references to Chip Ganassi's disposition were made the morning after driver Jamie McMurray delivered the first Daytona 500 victory for both men.

"Chip, does this prove nice guys can finish first?" a reporter asked.

A pause followed and smirks began developing around the room.

"In the case of Jamie," the reporter clarified, and all those on stage - McMurray, Kevin Manion and Felix Sabates - and everyone watching them burst into laughter.

Ganassi even chuckled.

It's common knowledge that there is nothing warm and fuzzy about Ganassi. He's gruff, blunt and not easily forgiving when crossed. But that bluntness is partially why Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has taken great strides toward becoming one of NASCAR's elite.

Sunday's win was just the latest proof EGR is on the move. Ganassi's stable also put Juan Pablo Montoya in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

Ganassi and Co. aren't afraid to shut down teams. They aren't afraid to make what look like ruthless financial decisions and they aren't afraid to let a driver walk away if the price isn't right.

Ganassi said teams like his are unfairly overlooked for bigger operations, mentioning Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs by name.

"There are lots of teams that are capable," he said, "and maybe the model isn't a massive team."

Ganassi smiled a lot Monday as he talked about his team's past.

They tried Dario Franchitti in a Cup ride but shut down that team and laid off 71 employees when that failed. They watched Montoya struggle as the team's finances struggled too.

They merged operations with Dale Earnhardt Inc., forming Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

Three drivers have left Ganassi this decade searching for greener pastures: Casey Mears, McMurray and Reed Sorenson.

Only McMurray still has a ride - and that's because Ganassi gave him another shot.

Two years ago a reporter wrote that Ganassi's team was in disarray and Ganassi has never forgotten that story - that word in particular - with which he fiercely disagreed. Sabates called that "the truth" Monday morning.

"Disarray, remember that?" Ganassi said, good-naturedly this time. "… It validates things a little bit. Putting Juan in the Chase validated our MO, if you will. Obviously (Sunday) night did too."

tganguli@tribune.com

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