Daytona 500: Ganassi - Saturday Dodge interview

Chip Ganassi (Team Owner, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) THERE HAS BEEN A PERCEPTION THAT MONTOYA IS A PRIMADONA FROM FORMULA ONE, BUT HE'S THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE ISN'T HE? HE IS A GUY KIND OF LIKE TONY STEWART WHO JUST LOVES TO RACE.

Chip Ganassi (Team Owner, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)

THERE HAS BEEN A PERCEPTION THAT MONTOYA IS A PRIMADONA FROM FORMULA ONE, BUT HE'S THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE ISN'T HE? HE IS A GUY KIND OF LIKE TONY STEWART WHO JUST LOVES TO RACE. "That's what I've been saying all along. That's what I said the day we announced him in Chicago. I still stand by that. I was just at a sponsor function last evening and they were saying that they couldn't believe that he was the last one; you know Felix (Sabates) has a boat down there, but he was literally the last one off the boat. I mean, this wasn't late or anything. It was like 7 p.m. or something and they had a dinner to go to, but he was the last one there. He was the last one there. So, what does that tell you about the guy? It's not a story that he enjoys NASCAR. He's enjoying the racing, enjoying the series, enjoying the bus life."

IS HE ENJOYING THE WRESTLING? "Is it true that he hit someone over the head with a chair?"

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU LET ONE OF YOUR DRIVERS ENTER A WRESTLING MATCH? "Yeah, I can't wait to see the tape or something. He said it was a real learning experience."

ON CHAMP CAR: "You guys -- I know as much as you do believe me. I just hope it happens. There can't be five people on the planet that don't want it to happen, so let's hope it happens."

DO THEY CONSULT WITH YOU IN ANY FASHION? "The only consultation I had was I got a phone call one day that said if we get this thing back together we might need a car. I said no problem."

TO WHAT LEVEL WOULD IT HELP? "If they were to get back together I think that's only when the work would begin. It's probably like the 1994 baseball strike. The work really begins once you get all of the problems behind you. It would be nice to get all of the issues in one place. Get all of the rules makers in one place. Get all of the promoters in one place. Get everybody at one table instead of two. It would certainly end a lot of confusion in the marketplace."

IF THEY DID GET TOGETHER HOW LONG WOULD IT TAKE FOR THEM TO GET ANY KIND OF MOMENTUM? "Who knows? Good question. I don't know."

YOUR DRIVER SAID IT'S ALREADY TOO LATE. "That's why they call him Juan and me Chip. We're two different people."

DO YOU WORRY THAT HE IS SAYING WHAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE THINKING? "No. It's like asking Dario about Ashley's Oscar possibilities -- it's not what he's here about. You know what I mean? These guys are here to race in NASCAR. To ask them about Michael Schumacher or open-wheel racing -- don't know, don't care."

DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE AN AFFINITY FOR OPEN-WHEEL DRIVERS? "I have an affinity for being at the front. That's my affinity - Being at the front. It doesn't have anything to do with where drivers come from. I don't care if they come from Mars."

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING ON WITH REED SORENSON? "What do I think is going on there -- we are giving him all of the good shit. No -- I think we've seen a maturation process in that guy over the winter and he's stepped up. I think part of that is having Juan as a teammate last year has helped him step up. I think bringing Dario on has helped him step up. He's stepping up. He's doing what we've asked him and what we want him to do. He's doing exactly what we want him to do. We couldn't be happier."

IS DODGE ON THEIR GAME THIS YEAR? "There are certainly signs that there's a rejuvenation of interest in NASCAR from the powers that be at Chrysler. Yes.

HOW CAN YOU TELL? "Well, because they invited four of us up there for dinner one night and told us. It was a small dinner. There were six or eight people there total. They just sat around and said, 'Look, we're it this. We're in it to stay. You guys are our guns and what do you need? What can we do to help you?"

ROBERT NARDELLI? "Yes, Nardelli and (Jim) Press."

WHEN CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE THE NEW ENGINE? "When we get one on our dyno. When we start running it. I don't know."

SPRING OR EARLY SUMMER? "I don't want to be giving that information out. That's not for me to say. That's for other people to talk about."

YOU SAID THEY INVITED FOUR OF YOU TO DETROIT? WAS THAT YOU, ROGER PENSKE, RAY EVENHAM AND SOMEBODY ELSE? "They invited us, Roger, Ray and (George) Gillett."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON ALL OF THE HENDRICKS/GIBBS STORIES? "You know I was pretty happy in the 150s when it was Hendrick, Gibbs, Hendrick, Hendrick and us. I can't speak for other teams in where they are in there program. I just think that we made some moves over the winter and our team has stepped it up a little bit. Whether it's our drivers, our engine program, our COT program -- I think everything can come up a step and I'd like to think that we've moved up a notch on the ladder. What that means for other teams I have no idea. Every winter every team works in the off-season. Every team wants to work better. For our team, where we are in the pecking order, we need to work harder. I'm thinking that we've made a step or two up the rung. In terms of the other guys I can't say where they're at. I wish them well and here we go. It's just like that Super Bowl -- Everybody thought that the Patriots were going to win and wanted the Giants to win right. That's why they play the game. That's why they are going to have a race tomorrow. You just can't hand the trophy out. They have to have a race first. You still have to execute. You still have to do pit stops. You still have to have luck on your side. Your engine still has to get to the finish. You can't get caught up in a crash. There are a lot of things that can happen. Look at all the talk about the Patriots -- they still had to play the game."

WHY DO YOU THINK REED SORENSON HAS MATURED? "It's a good question. I don't have the answer to that. I don't know what it was, because if I knew what it was I would have done it a lot sooner I can tell you that. Or I would have given it to him a lot sooner whatever it was. Different people are on what I call the performance treadmill. People are just on different angles and different speeds with their treadmill. They all get there eventually, some sooner than others. I'm just happy to see that Reed had a good off-season in that regard."

WHAT SHOWS THAT ON THE TRACK? "You never know. I was talking to Reed the other day about this and a lot of times you could say that he's the same guy and our cars have gotten better. You'd be surprised; when you have a good car it's a hell of a lot easier to look good. When you have a good car and a good engine it could all change next week in California. Good cars make people look good, but I've seen just in his driving style I've seen some moves that I haven't seen before. Or a level of, I don't want to say aggressiveness, but a level of determination that I haven't seen before."

ARE YOUR CARS BETTER? ARE THEY WHERE YOU WANT THEM TO BE? "I hope they are. I think we've made a couple steps up."

IT'S A LOT ABOUT THE CAR ISN'T IT? "That's what they tell me. I haven't been around this NASCAR too much, but that's what they tell me."

WHAT'S IT LIKE FOR YOU TO GET UP ON THE MORNING OF THE DAYTONA 500? "What's it like to get up on the morning of the Daytona 500? It's a lot like getting up on the morning of the Indy 500. It's just like any other of the 363 days. I get up and have coffee, read the paper, look at the computer, take a shower."

YOU DON'T TRY TO GET OVER EXCITED. YOU JUST KEEP A GOOD MINDSET. "I'm from the school that if you treat it like it's something too special you're going to nerve-wrack yourself right out of it. In a lot of ways it's just like any other race, but in some ways it's still the biggest race. You have to treat it with that amount of respect and with that approach. If you start getting all woo woo woo then you're going to psych yourself right off the map, or off the dance floor anyway."

THAT'S A GREAT RING YOU'RE WEARING. HOW OFTEN DO YOU WEAR IT? "Actually Juan got me that ring. That's the ring that he got the team in 2000."

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GOOD CAR AT GANASSI AND A GOOD CAR AT HENDRICK? "I don't know because I haven't looked at their cars. I know they have good ones."

EVERYBODY JUST SAYS THAT THEY HAVE THE BEST EQUIPMENT. "Well, hey, someone has to set the standard. Until it can be me it might as well be him."

WEAR ARE YOU GOING TO SIT FOR THE DAYTONA 500? "I'll move around. I always start on the highest qualifying car. I'll start on Reed's box and move around."

THEY EARN THAT IN A WAY. "Yeah."

FELIX SABATES IS PRETTY OUTSPOKEN ABOUT NASCAR FRANCHISING. WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THAT ISSUE? "I'm focused on the Daytona 500 today and tomorrow. I'm sure that in due time NASCAR will do what is best for everybody or what they think is best for everybody. I used to get caught up in all that stuff and I'm happy to do what I do and take care of the team and leave the politics to everyone else. That's why I have a partner that's good at that."

DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE SOME EQUITY FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN AROUND FOR "X" NUMBER OF YEAR? "I think you should be able to grow $100 bills in your garden, but I don't know what that means. I don't know what everybody else thinks of that, but that's what I think."

WHAT MAKES THIS RACE SPECIAL? "I can tell you when I was growing up I can remember sitting on the couch as a little kid looking outside in Pittsburgh watching the snow and watching the Daytona 500. To me it means that spring is just around the corner and this is the kickoff to the racing season. It's what you want to do. It's what you want to be. Having little racing cars in my mom's living room and watching the Daytona 500. You know, that's what you want to do."

YOU HAVE WON CHAMPIONSHIPS IN SEVERAL FORMS OF RACING EXCEPT NASCAR. DO YOU THINK THAT IS A TESTAMENT TO HOW HARD NASCAR CAN BE AND IS IT ONE OF YOUR GOALS TO BE THE FIRST PERSON TO SUCCEED IN ALL FORMS OF RACING? "I certainly see it as a goal. Yes. I certainly want to be the first to do it. Yeah, that's a goal."

DOES ALL OF THE ATTENTION GIVEN TO HENDRICK AND GIBBS EAT AT YOU A LITTLE BIT? "No, I think it's kind of good because it takes the focus off. I'm glad that it takes the focus off of us and you can let us get some work done and not have the scrutiny of you guys. You're over there talking to those guys and you might not be looking at us that close. That's fine. I'm glad. It's fun to work when the spotlight is on you, but it's easier to work when it's on someone else."

DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT? IF THE FOCUS IS ON YOU IT MEANS THAT YOU ARE ON TOP. "You'll focus on me at the appropriate time I'm sure."

DOES IT MATTER TO YOU WHEN NASCAR MAKES THE MOVE TO THE COT IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES? "It's going to be interesting this year to see how it pans out. For the last few years it seems like the Nationwide Series was a test for the Cup series because the cars were similar. You're going to see this year that with the cars being so different how that works. Is the Nationwide Series going to be as interesting as it was in the past? Some drivers looked at that like they were here on Saturday already and it was a learning experience for Sunday. Some drivers looked at it as a way to put some extra money in their pocket. Some drivers looked at it as a way to get their own little team started. It's going to be interesting to see if the Nationwide Series is ever going to be more than a Saturday warm up for Sunday. Can it break off on its own? Again, these are questions to ask NASCAR."

CAN YOU CONVERT YOUR FLEET TO A NEW CHASIS BY NEXT YEAR OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT PHASED IN? "We're in a period now where sponsorship is tight, so I don't think the owners are looking for any more projects that they have to swallow like a COT Nationwide. You can't swallow those kinds of things easily. It's no coincidence that the announcement of COT in Cup and the injection of outside money into the sport. That's no coincidence."

WHERE ARE YOU ON SPONSORSHIP FOR THE NO. 40? "We're piecing it together. We are happy where we are and what we've accomplished in a difficult market. We have every intention of being there and running it, so we're probably a third to a half of the way there right now."

WHAT HAS MADE THE MARKET DIFFICULT? "I don't know. The Federal Reserve is telling everyone that we're in a recession. If they tell you we are in a recession that must mean that we're in it right? All of the sudden that shakes the consumer confidence and once you shake the consumer confidence shaken."

IS NASCAR STILL A GOOD BUY? "One of the things that my sales people are telling me is the difference is we are not losing sponsors to other teams. We are losing them to them not being in the sport. We're not losing them to Hendick or Roush or anybody. I'm not the sales guy so it's hard for me to talk about that, but I can tell you that it's a difficult sales market right now."

WHERE ARE YOU WITH BRINGING IN INTERNATIONAL SPONSORS INTO THE SPORT? "It's a building block process. Any time you are talking about the kinds of numbers that we're talking about in Cup these days - you're talking about big numbers. The bigger the numbers the longer the time it takes to put a deal together. That's just a fact of life. You know, we're not talking about $500,000 sponsorships."

IS IT EXPLAINING TO PEOPLE WHAT THEY GET IN NASCAR COMPARED TO OTHER FORMS OF RACING? "It's everything. It's all and everything. It depends who you're talking to and what they know about everything."

HOW HAPPY ARE YOU WITH YOUR DRIVER LINEUP AS IT STANDS NOW? "You're always tweaking it a little bit. Am I happy with what I have now? Sure. I was happy with what I had last year."

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR REED THIS YEAR? "He can be there as well. I think when you look at Dario I think we are looking for a season that would parallel Juan's season from last season. I think when you look at Reed and Juan you say okay it's time for those guys to take the next step up. Get to the next rung up the ladder. It's either close or damn close to the Chase."

TOP 15 AT LEAST? "I would have been in the Chase twice if they would have been in the top 12 before that, right? Or if they hadn't taken 25 points from me at Bristol."

IF JUAN IS THE PRIMADONA HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR OTHER GUYS? "I don't know. How would you describe the other guys? Ones Hollywood and one is the real deal. Look at Dario - he's got Hollywood looks doesn't he."

-credit: dodge motorsports

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Chip Ganassi , Felix Sabates
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing