DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 10, 2001 -- Chip Ganassi and Dodge will have a lot in common this season on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit. â€œI guess you could say weâ€™re both the new kids on the block,â€ Ganassi said. â€œDodge has been there ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 10, 2001 -- Chip Ganassi and Dodge will have a lot in common this season on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit. “I guess you could say we’re both the new kids on the block,” Ganassi said. “Dodge has been there before, and so have I, but never as a car owner.” Dodge will officially return to NASCAR’s premiere series after a 15-year absence on Feb. 18 in the 43rd annual Daytona 500. Ganassi, a four-time CART championship team owner, enters his first season as a NASCAR Winston Cup car owner as a majority partner with long-time car owner Felix Sabates. “I’m having a ball with it so far,” Ganassi said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve been through the tunnel at Daytona plenty of times, but I don’t know when I ever looked forward to it more than I did this season. I’ve been in Pittsburgh all winter, so you know I’m ready to get to Florida. It’s always great to get down there in February, and we hope we can do it in a really big way this time.” Fielding a two-car Dodge Intrepid team with two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T, and rookie Jason Leffler in the No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will be one of five new teams in the Dodge Garage this season. “We’re delighted to have another proven winner with the Dodge team,” said Jim Julow, Vice President Dodge-Division. “Chip Ganassi may be new to NASCAR, but he knows how to win championships and big races. His 25 years of racing experience will make a substantial contribution to our racing success.” Ganassi and Sabates have a long history with Dodge and DaimlerChrysler. The first vehicle Ganassi drove was a Dodge pickup truck, and Sabates said his first “real job” was selling cars at a Chrysler/Plymouth dealer in Charlotte, N.C. “I talked with all the manufacturers, and I think Dodge had the best outlook toward the future,” Ganassi said. “They’re really hungry to do well, and I didn’t see that from the other manufacturers. Dodge is taking an open-minded approach, and they’ve got a fresh outlook on the sport. “Dodge’s ‘one-team approach’ is not just a PR gimmick. It’s the real thing. We’ve all been working together as a team. Now when we get on the track, it’s every man to himself, but up to that point, the teams have been helping each other prepare to race. “We’ve got a pretty tall order ahead of us. It’s going to take a lot to catch up with the Ford and GM teams. I think Dodge was well prepared for the testing this winter. They have a better grasp on the totality of the project than I thought. It’s gone about like I thought it would for our team. “Like I said, we all knew it was going to be a tall order, but we’re lucky to have some good people, and they know what it takes to field a successful team.” Ganassi’s team will combine Marlin’s experience, 10 poles and six victories in 503 career starts, including back-to-back Daytona 500 triumphs in 1994 and ‘95, with Leffler’s youth and enthusiasm. A three-time USAC Midget Champion and USAC Silver Crown Champion, Leffler won three poles and finished 20th in NASCAR Busch Series points last year driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Like Evernham Motorsports, another rookie team in the Dodge Garage this season with two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott and rookie Casey Atwood, Ganassi said his team is by design. “We couldn’t have written a script any better,” Ganassi said. “We’ve got a wily veteran and a young whipper-snapper. Sterling doesn’t have a lot to say, but he lets his on-track performance do the talking. “Lefeller is a proven champion in other series. Race winners are not always championship drivers, but championship drivers are always race winners.” So what does Ganassi predict for his fledgling two-car Dodge Intrepid team in 2001? “I know we’re going to be competitive,” he said. “If I didn’t feel like Dodge was going to be competitive, I wouldn’t have gone with them. I just don’t know how soon we’re going to be competitive, but it shouldn’t take too long to find out.” It never does for the new kid on the block.
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