BRICKYARD 400 TELECONFERENCE - Chip Ganassi Monday, July 19, 2010 An interview with Chip Ganassi MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this Brickyard 400 teleconference. Our guest today in this teleconference is Chip Ganassi.
BRICKYARD 400 TELECONFERENCE - Chip Ganassi
Monday, July 19, 2010
An interview with
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this Brickyard 400 teleconference. Our guest today in this teleconference is Chip Ganassi. He's the owner of teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, IZOD IndyCar Series and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. This year Chip became the first owner to win the Daytona 500, with Jamie McMurray driving, and the Indianapolis 500, with Dario Franchitti driving, in the same year. He will attempt to become the first team owner to win the Triple Crown of American racing in one, or any, year by capturing the Brickyard 400 on July 25 at IMS. Jamie and Juan Pablo Montoya will lead the charge for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates here at the Brickyard. And just as an aside, no owner has won the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, so Chip is aiming for that, as well. So there are a lot of targets for him to achieve with a victory this weekend at the Brickyard. Chip, thanks for joining us.
CHIP GANASSI: Thanks, Paul.
MODERATOR: I know you're always focused on the next race, the next win. And winning is why you race. But can you step back and put into perspective the kind of season you've had so far, especially at the big events, and what it would mean for you and the team to add the Brickyard to your impressive list of accomplishments in 2010.
GANASSI: At the big events, our season has been pretty good. Obviously, with the wins at Daytona and Indianapolis, we have the big events covered. It seems to be those damn little events in between. I don't want to say little events; everybody will get mad at me. But it's those races in between that make up the series that we seem a bit challenged by from time to time. Obviously, if you want to win some, those are the ones you want to win.
MODERATOR: What is it about your team that helps you excel at the big events?
GANASSI: I don't know. I wish I could put a finger on it myself. Our drivers get up for big events. They seem to like those places. Jamie and Juan in NASCAR both like Daytona, Dario and Scott both like Indianapolis, Scott Pruett likes Daytona. So our guys like the places and they seem to be good at the places where the big races are. So many times you have drivers who are good at a particular type of track. Fortunately, our guys are good at the tracks that have the big races. Believe me, that's a big help, and it's no small thing.
Q: I hate to start with a non-Brickyard question here, but I need to ask you a quick one here. What's your assessment of the decision made by the ICONIC committee, and what do you plan to do now with the Delta Wing?
GANASSI: Preston, you know, to tell you the truth, I've been kind of travelling since the announcement was made last week. I'm looking forward to seeing what the rules look like when they came out. I can tell you that you're talking to me from Pittsburgh, and I've told my people at Delta Wing that I would see them later in the week when I get to Indianapolis. And that's the truth. I wish I had an answer for you.
Q: How about the ICONIC committee decision? Any quick thoughts on that?
GANASSI: They're a committee put together, and I wasn't part of putting the committee together, and the committee wasn't allowed to talk to us, so I don't know what to say about it. We had a driver representative that was on there. And I spoke to him for one time for 10 minutes as a team owner, and that was my only contact with the ICONIC committee. So I don't really know what they were told to do or how to go about doing it, so I don't have much information for you, Preston. I'm sorry. I don't know what they were set out to do, so I assume they did what they were told to do. So we'll go race with that, I guess.
Q: You don't sound too pleased with it, I have to say.
GANASSI: I haven't seen any rules yet. I'm a person that runs racing teams. In order to run a racing team, you have to have a rulebook. And you have to understand a rulebook. And whoever understands the rulebook the best usually does well at the races. I haven't seen the rules yet, so I wish I could talk to you about engines or cars or how I like it or don't like it. But there's no rules yet. When something comes out that's tangible, I'll be happy to opine about it.
Q: Last year was a tough race for Juan and I imagine you, too. What do you remember from that day, and how long did it take Juan and the team to get over that? Is that something maybe you never entirely get over?
GANASSI: I would not put it in the category of "never getting over it." It's certainly not in that category. Last year, I was recovering at this time from surgery on my eyeball. I don't want to make a big thing about it, but that puts things into perspective really quickly about what's important in life and what isn't. There are things more important than winning races. However, having said that, all the great races are great to win. And that one would certainly mean a little more because for me and for racing, that's where racing got started. Talking about winning this year, that's what I'd say. Talking about getting over last year, I was over it about 20 minutes later.
Q: How about Juan? Do you think he was able to get over it that quickly?
GANASSI: I don't think he got over it in 20 minutes. But I think he got over it. You'll have to ask him.
Q: Actually, I did. It took him, he said, about a half-hour.
GANASSI: That's a little longer than 20 minutes.
Q: I wanted to follow up on Montoya a bit. Obviously, he acquitted himself very well at that racetrack the first time he raced there 10 years ago. Do you have any thoughts, stock car, Indy car, F1 car, what makes him so good on that circuit?
GANASSI: I don't know. I think I know what makes him good. The thing I like about Juan and what I think makes him good is that he drives every lap. He races every lap. Having said that, there are certain tracks, like I said earlier in the call, there are certain things guys like. If you were to, say, look at Jamie's career, you'd say, "Boy, great speedway guy." You'd look at Dario's career, and you'd say, "Hey, the guy loves street races." Everybody's got something they like. And for some reason, Juan gets around Indianapolis well. You look at Clint Bowyer; he gets around Kansas well. Guys, they just seem to like certain places. Denny Hamlin, he gets around Pocono for some reason every year. He's right in it at Pocono. There are just little things. Drivers are always looking for particular feel in a car, and they get that feel at certain tracks and they take off. So what does that for Juan at Indianapolis? I don't know. But he and Jamie like that place, so I'm excited.
Q: Everyone knows you love Indianapolis, the ambience and aura. But what do you think Juan's approach to that is? I know he's not the most sentimental of race car drivers. Is maybe that an advantage for him at Indy, when he got there he was never as awed by it as other drivers were. He treated it as another track, and maybe that's why he adapted to it so well and does so well there?
GANASSI: Yeah, Nate, I almost think that's a question for him. I don't want to answer that for him. It seems to me that he, true, from the first day he saw the place, I was standing there, and he liked it. Believe me, I was as surprised as anybody. It was in an Indy car, and the pole speeds that year were 220 or 221 or something, and his very first run out of the box, he did a high 216 in his first four laps around the place. He came in, and we said, "What's the car doing?" He said: "The car is doing nothing. It's like a slot car." I said, "What do we need to go faster?" He said, "I just got to hold my foot down further." OK. It's not a complex thing. At least it wasn't that day. As we all know, certainly 90 to 95 percent of racing you can pick up pretty quick. It's that last 5 percent you'll work on the rest of your life.
Q: What kind of difference do you think the rear spoiler will make this season as opposed to the rear wing?
GANASSI: That's a good question. I've always said when they went to the rear wing, it cleaned up the air behind the car. And consequently, when they went back to the spoiler, it dirtied up the air behind the car and made it punch a bigger hole in the air. That's what a spoiler does. Let's face it: It's called a spoiler because it spoils the air. Basically, the spoiler just creates a bigger hole in the air than the wing does. You've seen that closer racing. You've not seen the big string-out that you were getting with the wing when the COT first came out. Now with the spoiler, you're seeing a lot closer racing. I'm hoping we see that at Indianapolis, as well. With the bigger hole in the air, you're going to see guys drafting by at the end of the straightaway. You'll see guys popping out on a guy around start-finish line at Indy or whatever, down the back straightaway, going into (Turn) 3. You'll see guys popping guys there, drafting by them. I think you'll see more of that this year.
Q: Do you think that will lead to better racing, because a lot of people don't consider Indianapolis a great racing track for stock cars?
GANASSI: Yeah, I think it should. Any time you have passing, it makes better racing. I think it should lead to more passing, so if it leads to more passing, I think it follows that you're going to have better racing. Do I think it's going to turn Indianapolis into Bristol, Tennessee, in terms of stock car racing? I doubt it. But I don't think anybody's looking for that, either.
Q: Chip, I don't want to put you on the spot, but with NASCAR now coming up with rule change after rule change, do the guys over at NASCAR ask the team owners for their thoughts before that new rule goes into effect?
GANASSI: It's interesting, Bob. They do, from time to time. I think they do a good job of canvassing the garage area, if you will, for input. I guess they don't always see things the way we do. But I think if you were to ask me what my experience has been over the nine or so years I've had a Cup team, yeah, I feel like I get a hearing if I have something I want to say about something or something to give input on. I don't always understand them or agree with their decisions, but they're happy to tell you why they made their decision. And they're not afraid to change it if they made a mistake. Let's face it: In today's world, I think if you etch these rule changes in granite, you're only asking for trouble. So I think that a good thing that NASCAR does. They're not old dogs afraid to learn new tricks. They keep a pretty open mind.
Q: Chip, you were just responding to Nate's question. You said about racing, you learn 90 to 95 percent of racing pretty quickly. It's just the last 5 percent you work the rest of your life on. What is that last 5 percent you're chasing with all your programs? And when you look at your NASCAR program, is it a different 5 percent or is it something different you're chasing because it's a different discipline or because you've had greater success in other disciplines?
GANASSI: OK, so what specifically are we chasing in each ...
Q: What do you feel like is that last 5 percent you're chasing, and in particular, the NASCAR program?
GANASSI: Overall, the last little bit in the NASCAR program we're looking for is we're chasing things, we're chasing milliseconds in NASCAR. We've weathered sponsor changes. We've weathered the financial crisis. We've weather all these internal people changes within the team. We're always looking. That last little bit entails the proper people. I think the people are pretty much in place right now, and it's a matter of letting them jell up a bit. And I think with that, you're seeing some performance. Someone pointed out to me the other day that we're eighth and ninth in laps led in NASCAR. We're nowhere near that in the points. So that tells you we have some other things we have to work on. We have to get to the finish. We're showing we have fast cars, and we're showing that we can put the equipment on the track. Our engines are good. But we're just not making it happen at the end of the race. So that's sort of currently what I would say we're working on.
Q: As an owner, we've gone through half of the season since NASCAR said, "Boys, have at it," and kind of loosened things up on the track or let drivers kind of police themselves more. As a former driver, as a car owner now who has an investment in this, are you comfortable with the direction it's going? Obviously, there seems to be a lot more talk about it in light of Saturday night's Nationwide race. I know that didn't impact you ...
GANASSI: My initial response to that is currently I'm glad those guys don't drive for me right now because I'd feel a lot stronger about it, I'm sure. I think that someone has to be the referee in this, and I think NASCAR does a good job of that. And I think you should be allowed sort of one move. I've said this before. What I'm saying, let me preface by saying that it's very hard to police. I think you should be allowed one move. Each guy should be allowed one move. But I don't think you should be allowed to use your car as a weapon. I just thank God that nobody gets hurt in any of these things because I wouldn't want to see that happen. And I don't think that's what NASCAR had in mind they said, "Boys, have at it." And I'm positive they didn't have that in mind. They certainly don't want to hurt anybody. I've been accused of being a purist too much, but I would certainly like to see more good driving and driving we can respect, not having to crash a guy to win. I've seen plenty of races where drivers get out of the car and say: "I really appreciate so and so racing me clean. He could have taken me out for the win, but he didn't." I've seen races end like that, and I think these guys would get a lot more respect if that's how they drove. They'd get a lot more respect for comments like that than they would about what they'd get out of a win. Having said that, I'm sure other people feel differently.
Q: But it's still OK for the sport to be a contact sport to some degree, or not?
GANASSI: That it's a contact sport, that's in the roots of NASCAR. I didn't say it shouldn't be a contact sport. People say it's a contact sport, and the first thing that comes to mind is football. And it's not that. It's a contact sport, but I think people ... I think hockey's a contact sport, too, but hockey is about scoring goals, not fighting. You know what I mean? Racing, to me, I've always respected the great drivers in the sport. And the greatest drivers in the sport were known for their great driving more than they were for how many guys they took out.
Q: Chip, you're in a lot of racing, you do a lot of racing, you love racing. Of all of them that you're in, do you have a favorite?
GANASSI: My favorite, believe me, it changes from week to week. I always seem to like those places that we win. I was certainly a little disappointed yesterday. We finished second there in Toronto and second in New Jersey. So I was a little disappointed we didn't win. We led both of those races a lot and felt they were ours to lose, and we lost them. Having said that, I've said this before: These race teams are like children. You love them all the same, but some need a little more love than others at times. But this weekend, I'm certainly headed to the Brickyard because that's the one I'm looking forward to this weekend.
MODERATOR: The requirements, the preparation for the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 are all so different in terms of time and personnel. What unifies the preparation for those races, and what's different?
GANASSI: I think the one thing that unifies them is a group of people, whether they're in Indianapolis or Concord, North Carolina, where the two teams are based, the thing is we're fortunate that those teams are made up of people that have a lot of passion. A lot of passion for the sport. You have to have that. Part of having the passion for the sport is understanding the intricacies of each of the studies. I think Mike Helton put it best a few weeks ago. I heard him explaining where he said, "You know, in the NFL, it's the same field every week. And it's the same 100 yards every single week. It's the same field of play. We don't have the same field of play week in and week out in NASCAR, or in automobile racing, period." We don't have the same field of play. So you have to understand the nuances of an Indianapolis versus a Daytona versus a Bristol versus a Charlotte versus a Texas or a Long Beach. Each one of these places have little intricacies that make them different. And you have to understand those. And I can tell you that it takes years and years of going back there and understanding those things and understanding them well enough to win a race there. Everything from the pit lanes to the pit lane entrance to the changing on how the rubber comes in and how the track comes in and what affects the track. Things as simple as what time of the day the race is, whether it's in the daytime or in the evening or the transition from daytime to evening. These are all things that affect these races and affect the major races. You historically want to qualify late in NASCAR. You go to the Brickyard, you want to qualify early usually. Usually it gets warmer as it gets later because of the time qualifying starts in the daytime. So it's lots of little things that are different from track to track. And I guess somewhere along the line somehow we found that all interesting at one point in our careers.
MODERATOR: Is there more preparation with longer preparation, like for the Indianapolis 500, or with less preparation, like the Brickyard 400, where you have two hours of practice before qualifying and you better roll it out of the truck in good shape?
GANASSI: I think these days you better roll it out of the truck no matter what series you're in. Because if not, you're going to be catching up to the guy who's at the front all the time. You have to do your homework Monday through Friday, and you better be prepared to race when you show up on the weekend, or you're going to be still racing and they're going to be handing out the trophies.
MODERATOR: With that, Chip, we sure thank you for your time, and we wish you the best of luck this weekend at the Brickyard.
GANASSI: Thank you, boys. I'll see you there at the world center of racing.