GANASSI WHIPS NASCAR TEAMS INTO SHAPE
By Thomas Pope, Sports Editor
CONCORD - Losing won't ever sit well with Chip Ganassi, who describes racing as "my life."
That's the primary reason he won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 during the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, in addition to the Indianapolis 500 with his IndyCar team. He's the only team owner to have claimed all three in the same year.
But his 2011 season was a study in contrast. Dario Franchitti won his fourth IndyCar title under the Ganassi banner, and the team owner also captured gold in the Grand Am series. On the NASCAR side, however, Ganassi had to deal with a massive failure.
Jamie McMurray, who won Daytona and Indy in 2010 as well as the fall race at Charlotte, went winless in '11. Juan Pablo Montoya, the victor at Watkins Glen, N.Y., in 2010, was shut out, too.
Ganassi kept both drivers, but he ousted Steve Hmiel and Tony Glover, two long-time employees who were at the top of his competition department. Glover had been with the team for a decade after Ganassi's purchase of an 80-percent stake in a team owned by Felix Sabates.
"It was pretty obvious what spurred me" to make changes, Ganassi said. "We were 21st and 27th in points, and that's pathetic for a team with our ability and our resources. It's as simple as that."
Last season didn't start out as dud. By late April, however, it start sliding off the rails and nothing could get it back on track.
Montoya, for instance, was eighth in the points in the spring but skidded all the way to 21st when the season ended in November. Like his teammate, McMurray was able to eke out only two top-five finishes. McMurray's 27th-place position in the points was the worst of his career - on the heels of the 2010 season when three wins doubled his career total.
"It was tough," McMurray said, "but when you have the season like that, it makes you appreciate what we had in 2010 and what we think we can have this year.
"Chip made a lot of changes to the card," he added. "It's hard not to be pumped up and get this thing under way."
McMurray's crew chief, Kevin Manion, avoided Ganassi's ax. Montoya's pit boss most of the season, Brian Pattie, wasn't as lucky, and Ganassi replaced an interim crew chief with Chris Heroy, an engineer at Hendrick Motorsports.
Ganassi said he won't hesitate to continue making the changes he believes will get his team running up front again. Like Roger Penske, another ultra-successful IndyCar team owner, Ganassi is still in search of his first NASCAR crown.
"It's a matter of getting people in the right place and letting them do their job," Ganassi said. "If more changes need to be done, we'll do that as well."
At his most optimistic, Ganassi hopes to see his team come out of the box strong in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. All six of McMurray's Sprint Cup victories have come on superspeedways, and he is at his best on the two restrictor-plate tracks, with wins at Talladega and the summer race at Daytona while at Roush Fenway Racing and the 2010 Daytona 500 crown for Ganassi. Montoya is still seeking his first NASCAR win on an oval to go with his pair of road-course triumphs.
"Like so many sports, racing's about momentum and we want to start off fast," Ganassi said. "Success can breed some success. I'm a race car guy, I live for racing, and there's no other place I'd rather be than at a race track. . I've about had enough of the offseason."