What a difference a year makes for Ganassi

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 PM ET

TORONTO - In the annals of motor sports there are few success stories that have been moulded from the depths of despair the way Chip Ganassi’s has over the past two seasons.

It is hard to fathom that the Ganassi who collected the auto racing equivalent of a Grand Slam with his team’s win at the Rolex 24 this past weekend at Daytona International Speedway, is the same Ganassi who was a mere weeks away from having to disband his crown jewel NASCAR Sprint Cup team just two seasons ago.

In late 2008 Ganassi was faced with the prospect of closing up his Sprint Cup shop after a season where big-time sponsors Texaco and Coors had pulled out of his operation.

That left Ganassi and partner Felix Sabates with only enough dough to fund Juan Pablo Montoya for the 2009 season.

But a meeting with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated owner Teresa Earnhardt changed Ganassi’s future fortunes with a stroke of the pen.

DEI and Ganassi agreed to a merger in November of 2008 that created Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

The rest, as they say, is history.

After a single season of getting to know each other’s modus operandi, the two teams began an unprecedented march towards racing gold in 2010.

First came the unlikely win by Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 in February, then Dario Franchitti — rescued from the scrap heap that was Ganassi’s No. 41 Sprint Cup team — wins the IZOD INDYCAR Indianapolis 500, then lightning strikes McMurray again by winning the Sprint Cup Brickyard 400, also at Indianapolis.

The fourth piece of the slam was the Rolex 24 where Scott Pruett — with co-drivers Graham Rahal, Joey Hand and Memo Rojas — won for the fourth time under the Ganassi banner at the twice around the clock sports car race.

And to top off his incredible string of good luck, Ganassi’s other Rolex 24 entry — McMurray, Franchitti, Montoya and Scot Dixon — finished second to make it a 1-2 Ganassi podium.

D.J. DOES GOOD

A huge shout out to NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington who went down to California’s Irwindale Speedway last weekend and came within half a second of beating winner Jason Bowles in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.

Bowles considers Irwindale his home turf, but it was Kennington’s first look at the legendary California short track and his first time in the Bill McAnally Racing prepared Toyota Camry.

While the 225-lap event — considered the Daytona 500 of short track racing — was marred by 11 cautions, Kennington skillfully steered his No. 17 Castrol Edge sponsored machine through the debris without so much as a major dent.

“Bill McAnally Racing gave me a great car to drive for this race I knew we’d be good right away,” Kennington said. “And I really have to thank all my guys who came down from Canada with me, they do such a great job and I can’t thank them enough.”

TROUBLE BREWING IN F-1

Several German newspapers are reporting that Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone his up to his waist in another scandal.

This time Ecclestone is being accused of paying a $50 million U.S. bribe to embattled German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, when negotiating his buy-back of F-1’s commercial rights in 2006.

The usually talkative Ecclestone has clammed up about the charges, citing future legal action that may be taken against him.

“On the advice of my lawyers I don’t want to say anything more on this issue,” said the 80-year-old Ecclestone.

A CONFIDENT RED BULL

Contrary to popular opinion the denizens of the world champion Red Bull F-1 team are not arrogant, at least not according to team boss Christian Horner.

He says that winning both the F-1 constructor and driving crown in 2010 has only made the squad more confident.

“Out of that comes confidence but not arrogance,” Horner said at the unveiling of the team’s RB7 car at Valencia.

“But the team goes into this year very, very motivated and very committed but you have to remember we are still an independent team with a customer engine that achieved some remarkable things last year and that is our target again, again, obviously this year.”

FINISH LINES

Hollywood actors have been making headlines in auto racing for decades — the first and most successful was the late Paul Newman who went on to own an INDYCAR team. Now the star of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, actor Patrick Dempsey, has caused a minor stir when he told reporters after finishing third in the GT class at the Rolex 24 that he might quit his day job.

“I’m retiring from Grey’s Anatomy as of today,” Dempsey said in a post-race interview. “I’ll be racing full-time from here on in. There’s a headline for you.” Turns out he was only joking. ... With Firestone rumoured to be looking for a way out of its deal as official tire supplier for the IZOD INDYCAR series and Goodyear too busy with NASCAR to make a move to open wheel racing, the arrival of European-based Continental Tires in the Grand AM sports car series in North America is interesting, to say the least. ... Ford has all but confirmed that it will replace the Fusion badge on its NASCAR Sprint Cup teams with Mustang starting in 2012. Ford Racing boss Jamie Allison is a long time champion of the Mustang brand and he told The Sporting News last week he likes the idea. ... The most sought after free agent in NASCAR? Well it will be Carl Edwards, who’s contract with Roush Fenway Racing expires at the end of the 2011 season. ... Just one year into NASCAR’s commitment to have all its Sunday Sprint Cup races start at 1 p.m. ET, the spectre of going head-to-head with the NFL behemoth next fall has caused a flip-flop down at the series’ Daytona HQ. In an effort to shore up television ratings, Sunday races — beginning in September will have a 2 p.m. ET start through November with west coast races including Texas and Phoenix going to a 3 p.m. ET start. ... Jaguar RSR is expected to run two cars in the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. The team’s JaguarRSR XKR GTs will have former CART and INDYCAR stars Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano Da Matta in one car and P.J. Jones has been signed to pilot the second entry. A second driver to co-drive with Jones will be named later.


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