By Lori Wood
No one is the history of motorsports can match what team owner Chip Ganassi accomplished by winning the Brickyard 400 with driver Jamie McMurray on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In a span of a little more than five months, team Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Target Chip Ganassi Racing won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400, a feat no one thought possible until May, when Dario Franchitti won his second Indy 500 and first with Ganassi. “This is pretty special,” said Ganassi. “This is a big, big day for our team.”
Both of Ganassi’s parents are ailing and were not able to attend the race, but he made sure to send an exuberant heartfelt shout out over the airwaves. “Hi Dad. I hope you’re on the oxygen back there, because I need some.”
Even race winner Kevin Harvick was impressed. “To win all of those in one year is remarkable. It will probably never happen again,” he said.
McMurray agreed with Harvick, saying, “Most likely it won’t happen. Chip is having such a year. It is hard to get both teams good at the same time.” It took nearly 100 years for the first time.
Ganassi was honored by Harvick’s predication. “I respect him as a driver, and I hope to get to respect him as a historian, and that he is right,” the winning owner said. He also credited Harvick’s team, Richard Childress Racing, for supplying them with great engines.
McMurray said that both Daytona and Indianapolis are strategy races. At the final pit stop, McMurray took just two tires, while teammate Juan Pablo Montoya took four. Montoya was leading at the time.
McMurray, whose future was uncertain just a year ago, was humbled. “I feel very honored to be a part of this. It is quite an accomplishment,” he said. His lean years, recent in memory, have made him appreciate his current situation, he added. “It’s been an unbelievable year The greatest racing year of my life.”
Even Ganassi has struggled in NASCAR recently. The team was looking for sponsorship at the beginning of the nation’s financial crisis in 2007. Although many in the media had written them off as a team, it angered Ganassi and fueled the comeback. “We had to make changes and we did. You have to turn your ear to a lot of things. We’ve been staying on our plan for a long time. You have to make sacrifices. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing,” he said.
Trying to move the spotlight from himself, Ganassi pointed to everyone involved. “This is a win for the team. Today was certainly a mixed emotions day. Without the 42 team, the 1 car wouldn’t have won, I don’t think.”
Prior to the start of the race, there was a lot of speculation that this would happen. However most thought it would be with pole-sitter Montoya. Montoya ran nearly an identical race as 2009 with a dominating car, but a mishap in the pits cost him the lead and eventually he crashed out with Dale Earnhardt Jr. In his incredible state of euphoria, Ganassi still understood JPM’s devastation. “My heart just goes out to him,” the owner said.
McMurray almost seemed in a state of shock as he climbed from the car. “Honestly, when Juan was leading and I was in second, I’m a big believer in fate, and I thought this was how it was meant to be. I won Daytona, Dario won the 500, and I thought Juan was going to win this one.”
Even though McMurray said he didn’t have the best car, he never fell out of the top 10 all day and rarely fell below fifth. He led just 16 laps, the second fewest in the history of the event. “With 10 laps to go, just do what you’ve got to do,” he summarized.
Winning both Daytona and the Brickyard in the same year has happened twice since NASCAR started at Indy 17 years ago. In 1996, Dale Jarrett did it, followed 10 years later by Jimmie Johnson, who went on to win the championship that year.
Ganassi began his career as an owner in 2001 when he joined with Sabates. In 2007, the team merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Through nine seasons, the team has amassed nine wins.
Adding to Ganassi’s resume this year, his DP class team finished second in the 24 Hours of Daytona with drivers Max Papas, Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Justin Wilson.
Despite the fact that Ganassi said he was speechless at the accomplishment, he found the words to describe the moment. “I’m lucky and privileged to be in this business. I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. You wouldn’t dare dream this. You wouldn’t dare dream this kind of year.”