It has always baffled me why Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing hasn’t performed up to snuff in NASCAR like I think it should.
Chip Ganassi is nearly legendary in all forms of racing. He has accumulated numerous successes other team owners would give their left (insert desired body part here) to achieve just one.
Yet to find gold in NASCAR – the purely American form of racing that started with backwoods moonshine running and has transformed into a monstrous and lucrative sport – has eluded Ganassi when it comes to championship wins.
Ganassi is no stranger to winning in the biggest venues in the racing world, and has even had his drivers take home some of NASCAR’s most prestigious trophies at the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, but his engineers and teams have failed to come close to Ganassi’s quest for a NASCAR championship.
In the Izod IndyCar Series the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team is comprised of Scott Dixon and defending champion Dario Franchitti. Dixon won the championship in 2003 and 2008 while Franchitti has won in 2007, 2009-2011. Target Chip Ganassi Racing, since 1990, has amassed nine championships and 86 wins, including three Indianapolis 500 victories.
Franchitti tried his hand in NASCAR from 2007-2008 in all three of the top series for Ganassi. But, in the middle of the 2008 series, and 41st in points, Ganassi shut down the entire NASCAR race team due to lack of sponsorship.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing also enters a Daytona Prototype team in the Rolex Grand Am Series. It won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2006, 2007 and 2008, which were grand accomplishments for the team. Additionally, four Grand-Am championships were acquired by 2010.
The 2011 season was, to date, the crowning glory for Ganassi. His Grand-Am Series team took first and second in the 24 Hours of Daytona. This victory that was shared between drivers Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Graham Rahal.
It solidified a most impressive and unprecedented feat for Ganassi as his teams won at four of North America’s best race events in a twelve month period – Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400, and the 24 Hours of Daytona.
So why can’t this man with deep pockets, some of the world’s best drivers and crews, and a resume of wins and championships that stretches far, convert his magic into titles in NASCAR’s top series?
Sterling Marlin was perhaps most successful for Ganassi’s foray into NASCAR when he was the points leader for 22 weeks in 2001 until an injury took him out of the lead and out of contention.
That left the team third in points for the season, respectable, but not a championship.
Jamie McMurray has shown he can tame tracks like Daytona and Indianapolis. His wins are jewels for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, but they do not make a championship and that’s what it’s all about in racing nowadays.
Juan Pablo Montoya, a phenomenal driver with championships in Formula 3000, CART FedEx Championship Series, and wins at the Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix, and overall winner in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2007 and 2008, has yet to make a big enough splash in NASCAR.
As a rookie in each of the following, Montoya established himself as a crossover race winner by accomplishing victories in Formula One, CART, IndyCar, Grand-Am, and NASCAR. His resume is vastly impressive, yet, in the Sprint Cup series, he has only two in the win column, both on road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
His fans wait for him to break the open wheel barrier and watch Montoya win on the NASCAR-signature oval. His detractors snicker every time Montoya misses a win, has a lousy finish, or, as he did in the first race of the 2012 season, hit the jet dryer during a caution, creating a dangerous two hour red flag situation.
Open wheel drivers do have a learning curve. Tony Stewart, comfortable in every kind of vehicle with four wheels, has parlayed an extremely successful open wheel career into a history-making NASCAR one, with three championships to date. But he seems to be more of the exception than the rule.
Dario Franchitti, Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr., and A.J. Allmendinger have all tried the crossover to NASCAR from open wheel, but have yet to find a high level of success.
Franchitti left NASCAR for a lucrative and winning career in the Izod IndyCar series. Hornish Jr. is working hard in the Nationwide series for Penske Racing and Allmendinger has a promising ride at Penske in the Cup series.
Montoya continues to try to find his winning niche in NASCAR and to, hopefully, earn Chip Ganassi and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing a championship.
It must be tough to achieve NASCAR’s top honors coming in from open wheel. Even Penske spent several years in NASCAR before a national championship came to his team. Brad Keselowski took home the NASCAR Nationwide Series top honors in 2010, marking the first and, to date, only championship for Penske.
Word in the off-season was that EGR employed a batch of engineers that would make the team highly competitive. Ganassi clearly hasn’t given up on his NASCAR championship dreams.
If any team owner is capable of transferring to another form of racing and winning it should be Ganassi. I have every faith his team will win races this year, and, in the near future, build a championship winning team in NASCAR’s top series.