Dodge pre-Darlington II Ganassi interview

CHIP GANASSI (Car owner Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) NOTE: Ganassi's CART teams won four straight championships from 1996-99. He acquired majority ownership of Team SABCO Racing for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Season with ...

CHIP GANASSI (Car owner Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)

NOTE: Ganassi's CART teams won four straight championships from 1996-99. He acquired majority ownership of Team SABCO Racing for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Season with veteran driver Sterling Marlin and Raybestos rookie driver Jason Leffler. Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian drive for Ganassi's CART team this season.

Marlin drove his No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T to victory at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 19, giving Dodge its first NASCAR Winston Cup victory of the season and its first since 1977 in NASCAR's premiere series.

Marlin has had the top finishing Dodge in 13 of 24 events this season. He's scored top-10 finishes in three of the last four races and ranks fourth in the series standings, 418 points behind leader Jeff Gordon with a dozen races remaining. Marlin is 110 points out of second place and 39 points out of third.

Ganassi talks about his first season as a NASCAR owner, the outlook for his team's future and other interesting topics.

YOU DIDN'T GET TO SEE STERLING MARLIN WIN AT MICHIGAN BECAUSE YOU WERE AT THE CART RACE. HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET TO MICHIGAN AFTER YOU HEARD MARLIN WON?

"After Sterling took the checkered flag at Michigan, within 20 seconds I was in the jet for Michigan. The helicopter Mark Martin came over in, I took it back to the track. I got there just as they were rolling the car back to the garage. I was there in less than half an hour. You've got to change directions. That's one thing about my company, about me. That's something I preach to these guys all the time. You've got to be nimble in this sport. You've got to be able to change, whether it's changing your engineering direction or whatever."

TALK ABOUT TEAM MANAGERS ANDY GRAVES AND TONY GLOVER

"Who wouldn't be comfortable with those two guys? I couldn't have got involved with a better guy than Felix Sabates. You can say anything you want about Felix Sabates' racing fervor, but you can't fault his heart. If the guy's got any problems, he's got an enlarged heart. To have two guys to hit the ground with Andy Graves, it was huge. Then the next person you run into is Tony Glover. Who wouldn't like to get started with a team like that? You could be a lot less fortunate about who you get hooked up with."

HOW DID IT FEEL WINNING YOUR FIRST CUP RACE?

"You can't put it into words. I don't care if you have a dictionary in front of you. You can't put that into words. It makes me think about the first time I met Lou Patane. I remember I was at a race for Indy cars. That was years ago in Phoenix, Ariz., but something clicked. It makes you think about the first time you meet these guys, or the first time I talked to Andy Graves about starting a Winston Cup team.

"I remembered the first time I told Felix we were switching to Dodge. I remember the first thing out of his mouth. 'Are you crazy?' Then the second thing out of his mouth. 'Are you smoking something?'

"Obviously there's been a lot of changes there since it was SABCO Racing. A lot of people didn't know what to think of me when I came in. I don't think I have any different style. I just look at what needs to be done and try to get it done.

"I've known a lot of these guys for years, Richard Childress, the Pettys, I knew Jack (Roush). I knew Bill France. I served Bill France dinner when I was 12 years old, he and his dad. They used to go hunting, and my father and I were at the hunting camp. I was in a movie one time with Stan Barrett and Neil Bonnett and Richard Petty. It was Cannonball 3. I played a cop.

"We were filming in Monroe, N.C. Stan Barrett was doing all the work. Richard and I were standing there dressed as cops. We had our own police cars, boots, pants, sticks, guns, glasses and straps on our hats. I told Richard that we were going to have some fun. We got in the police car. We were sitting on the movie set, and it was about 5 o'clock. They said the next scene was going to be filmed about 8. So Richard and I had some fun. We pulled this lady over. She was driving a Corvette, and there was a Dale Earnhardt license plate on the front. It was in 1993 or '94 I think.

"She rolled her window down, and I said, 'are you a Dale Earnhardt fan?' She said, 'yes, I mean, no, I mean my son is.' Richard was laughing so hard he couldn't stand it. I told her that we were filming a movie and she needed to be careful.

"STP used to sponsor me in the mid 80s. I knew the Pettys and Harvey Duck and Ralph Salvino and Steve Tucker and those guys. I didn't attend my first NASCAR race last year."

WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NASCAR AND CART?

"I learned that it takes longer to put the tires on than it does to put the fuel in the car. That's the biggest difference between NASCAR and CART, and it sounds like a simple thing, but it changes the pit strategy. The (NASCAR) cars are bigger and heavier. The tires are bigger and heavier. The tools you work on the cars with are bigger and heavier. Consequently, the guys that work on the cars are bigger guys.

"You pick up the paper and here we are winning (CART) races and championships. I pick up the paper and it's 'Gordon wins Dover, Del.' at the top of the page. At the bottom of the page, it's 'Ganassi wins CART championship.'

"I've been racing one thing or another since I was 14 or 15 years old, but how could you say you were in racing in this country and not be in this?"

WHY HAS THE 40 TEAM BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL?

"That's strictly a function of Andy and Glover and Sterling and Jason. We announced it at the Brickyard last year that we were switching to Dodge, but we had been kind of knowing where we were going. You don't expect anything in this business. We just work hard and keep our head down and hope we're going to accomplish something. You see where you are Sunday night. You hope you can roll the car on the truck and hope you don't have to work this hard next week. You hope to do well. If you don't hope to do well, you don't need to be in this sport.

"Everybody has a tool box, and I think it's my job to give everybody the tools they need in their tool box. Whether it's mechanics or engineers or CFOs, whoever it is on the team, it's my job to get the tools in their toolbox so they can do the job. It makes everyone's job easier if they have the right tools."

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GO TO THE NEXT LEVEL IN NASCAR?

"We need a gauge to tell us how far we can push the development while maintaining reliability. Our team is in this quandary. We're not this or that. We're not championship material, but we're not at the back of the pack. We're trying to break into that top three, and you have to push development and at the same time you can't dare sacrifice reliability. Look at what's happened to Rusty the last couple of weeks."

TALK ABOUT THE 01 TEAM

"I think Jason was put in a situation a little bit sooner than he should have been. He's done a great job. His trend line is trending the way we'd like it to. If you look at his trend line, you'd have to say it's moving in the right direction. He missed the show at Bristol the first time around and he damn near missed it again.

"(A third team) is just a lot of talk right now."

WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT TONY STEWART?

"He's a good driver."

IS HE GOING TO DRIVE FOR YOU NEXT YEAR, A LITTLE OF THIS OR A LITTLE OF THAT?

"Maybe."

HOW MUCH OF THIS AND HOW MUCH OF THAT?

"Probably just a little bit of this and mostly that."

WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP DO YOU HAVE WITH TONY?

"Probably about like every other car owner out here."

ARE YOU PLANNING A BUSCH PROGRAM?

"Let me tell you something. I'm not going to go into Busch and beat a guy like James Finch. What's the point in me trying to do that? Guys do that real well and have forgotten more about Busch than it would take me 10 years to learn."

HOW'S YOUR RACE TRACK IN CHICAGO GOING?

"It's not something you'd get into because of all the money."

IS CHICAGO BIG ENOUGH FOR TWO RACE TRACKS?

"It's big enough for two baseball teams."

COULD KENNY BRACK DRIVE A CUP RACE FOR YOU NEXT YEAR?

"Maybe. You guys have been talking about that more than he and I have. I wouldn't rule that out, but that's not one of those things on the front burner."

COULD TARGET BE THE 01 SPONSOR NEXT YEAR?

"This was a one-race deal (with 40 car at Bristol). It's been in the work for months. We tried to pick the right time to do it. It was scheduled before Sterling won at Michigan. I guess there's a chance (for Target to sponsor 01 in 2002), but I would call it slim."

HOW MUCH HAS YOUR ROOKIE TEAM TAKEN AWAY FROM YOUR OTHER TEAM?

"Would I rather have Ricky Rudd there? Would I have a stronger team if I had Ricky and Sterling? Certainly. Or Tony and Sterling? Certainly. This formula of racing doesn't lend itself to that type of thing. We were having a hard time finding someone to drive that 01 car last year. It wasn't the easiest process. Obviously, there were a lot of questions about our team, about myself, about Dodge. There were some obvious questions. We're happy with the job Jason is doing."

ARE YOU SURPRISED WITH THE SUCCESS OF THE 40 TEAM?

"I don't look at it that way. I've got Andy and Tony and the guys running the team. I just try to get them what they need, and I work hard at it and do what we have to do to build a solid race team as well as a solid business. At the same time, you can have performance on the track, but you've got to have performance off the track, too. We've all seen a lot of owners come and go. That's not my MO. We're going to be here for the long haul."

HOW TO YOU SPLIT YOUR TIME?

"This year, I went to all the CART races and on the in between weekends, I came here. What that does, that splits it 50-50. Fifty percent of my time is on CART, and 50 percent is here (NASCAR). We'll see if that changes over time. I have good people around me."

CAN YOU CATCH JEFF GORDON?

"I don't know if we can catch Jeff Gordon, but I can tell you this. With (12) races to go, it's certainly mathematically possible for a lot of people to catch him. You wouldn't say it's impossible. Some great teams are out there in front of us, and there's a lot of great teams behind us. I'm just glad to be one of the teams everybody is talking about. Right now we're focused on staying on our business plan. Come the middle of October, we'll see where we stand. I'm not going to get too excited one way or another about that. There's two kinds of people in racing -- winners and losers. You either win the race or you don't. There's a lot of water to go under the bridge before something like that (championships in two series) becomes a reality. Right now, we're just trying to make sure the bridges don't get washed away. We're going to stay focused on what we're doing."

-Dodge Motorsports-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jason Leffler , Sterling Marlin , Bruno Junqueira , Richard Petty , Chip Ganassi , Felix Sabates , Mark Martin
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing