Why Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR exit is a sign of the times

Chip Ganassi selling out his NASCAR Cup Series team to young upstarts in Trackhouse Racing came as a shock to many, but how big a deal is it in the grand scheme of things and what does it say about NASCAR’s upcoming Next-Gen era?

Why Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR exit is a sign of the times
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Ganassi entered NASCAR in 2001 and will likely leave it with a fairly meagre total of 15 wins at Cup level and 20 in the second-tier Xfinity Series. Compare those stats to its IndyCar and IMSA/Grand-Am sportscar numbers – 117 and 59 race wins respectively.

Granted, two of those 14 Cup wins were the crown jewels of the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, but since Chip bought 80% of Felix Sabates’ Team SABCO operation it’s fair to say it has underperformed compared to expectation against its rivals, which includes its prime IndyCar (and sometimes IMSA) competitor Team Penske.

It hasn’t been for the lack of quality drivers: Kyle Petty, Martin Truex Jr, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Sterling Marlin, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson were all top-drawer names to drive for CGR in Cup. As the catchphrase goes – “Chip likes winners” – and they just didn’t do enough of that for him these past 20 seasons.

“We won some big races… we lost some big ones too,” Ganassi lamented. “It’s unfortunate when you’ve been in this business so long, the more you remember the ones you lost than the ones you won.”

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History aside, what this deal is perfect for is Trackhouse Racing’s own ambitions. Team owner Justin Marks is a highly-driven individual, who actually scored one of Ganassi’s Xfinity victories as a driver at Mid-Ohio in 2016. He grew up a fan of Ganassi’s, and it was somewhat of a dream to win for his team-owning idol.

Along with Marks’ co-owner, the rap star Armando ‘Pitbull’ Perez, you can imagine what it must feel like for him to actually buy that team. And Chip was happy to sell it to him for the right price.

Justin Marks and Chip Ganassi

Justin Marks and Chip Ganassi

Photo by: Trackhouse Racing Team

“I wanted to make sure that this business gets put in the right hands,” said Ganassi. “For somebody that has a vision and an idea of what they want to do going forwards and has the money to do that. That was first and foremost of what brought the deal together.

“I do like the idea of maybe not having to think about changing over the new car and all that goes along with that. It certainly is a relief in some sense, but I’ll certainly miss it as well.”

Marks made the brave move in committing to run Daniel Suarez in the #99 car this year, the final year of Gen-6 machinery before next year’s shift to Next-Gen inventory. Using Chevrolet kit supplied by Richard Childress Racing, some standout performances have arrived already – notably at the Bristol dirt race and more recently at Nashville, the latter city being where Marks ultimately wishes to base his team out of.

“Fresh blood is good for any industry. And NASCAR has positioned itself well to have fresh blood” Chip Ganassi

As well as building a stout investment portfolio, he’s also created a tight-knit squad which he can now meld with Ganassi’s finest (he has pledged to interview everyone at CGR before making any staffing decisions) and between them there’s undoubtedly the makings of a very strong two-car team with the potential for growth in the future. Also don’t forget that Ganassi has a technical association with Hendrick Motorsports, so there’s an embarrassment of riches on tap in terms of support.

“Obviously the relationship with Chevrolet is very important, we have a great working relationship with RCR and we have to give them the respect first of exploring with them what a partnership would look like,” said Marks. “A lot of the work that has to be done from here, over the next couple of months, is understanding very intimately the Chip Ganassi Racing operations and how they manage different business units within the company and how that stacks up with where Trackhouse is at right now.”

Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Camping World leads the field

Daniel Suarez, TrackHouse Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Camping World leads the field

Photo by: NASCAR Media

Marks says that current CGR drivers Kurt Busch (the 2004 Cup champion) and Ross Chastain will be the first drivers he speaks to regarding his second seat – although Busch just might be eyeing up the TV commentary spot in the Fox Sports booth that Jeff Gordon recently vacated.

NASCAR will bless this deal, viewing Trackhouse, the 23XI team of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, and Kaulig Racing (which will step up from Xfinity next year) as demonstrating its business model is now far more viable to newcomers after years of negativity and the shockwaves of Furniture Row Racing shuttering just a season after winning the title in 2017.

Marks was keen to point out the Next-Gen plans as “proof of concept” in attracting his substantial investment. And Ganassi was moved to admit that “fresh blood” should be allowed to take its turn – plus there’s plenty of speculation linking CGR to running GM’s imminent LMDh sportscar project.

“Fresh blood is good for any industry,” said Ganassi. “And NASCAR has positioned itself well to have fresh blood.”

And that’s why it truly feels like the right time for Ganassi to turn this page.

Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Monster Energy

Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Monster Energy

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

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