So, What Exactly Is Going On With Chip Ganassi Racing?
For months, you've heard the rumors. Who will Ganassi merge with? Will they be in Dodges next season? With Texaco leaving, will they have enough sponsorship to make it in 2009?
Last week, minority owner Felix Sabates told NASCAR Now that the team would "do what the have to do" when it came to a merger. Another high ranking Ganassi official told the show yesterday that "a lot of people are talking to a lot of people" about possible mergers for next year.
Not very helpful, now is it?
So, what are these merger rumors? Speculation has risen about Ganassi combining it's operation with IndyCar rival Roger Penske, Toyota team Michael Waltrip Racing, and the latest has them merging with Petty Enterprises, which would allegedly send their Target sponsorship to the No. 43 of Bobby Labonte.
A merger with Gillet-Evernham Motorsports has also been discussed. However, with a "99.9% certainity" that GEM will go to Toyotas next year, the merger seems unlikely. The rumor hasn't been confirmed—or denied—by the GEM camp.
So, if the team merges with Petty, and Kyle Petty drives the #45 part time in '09—which is a mess in itself—the operation would become a four car operation.
But wait, Chip! Ganassi still has the No. 41, which will is vacant for next year as Reed Sorenson will be leaving for GEM. With only three races left in the season, Ganassi is yet to name a replacement- even though Sorenson announced his move more than two months ago. Rumors also began that things were so bad between the driver and his car owners that he might leave early, but that hasn't happened- at least, not yet.
Ganassi is also suffering from the loss of Texaco/Havoline, which announced around the same time they won't be returning. Wrigley will be sponsoring Juan Pablo Montoya for nineteen races next year, but that leave seventeen other events unsponsored.
The drama and unknown isn't new to the Ganassi team, though.
In 2001, Ganassi took control of Sabates's SABCO team, renaming it Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Sterling Marlin, who drove the #40 at the time, and Jason Leffler, driving the No. 01, were now Dodge drivers. The team had an all new look and no doubt a new attitude as well.
Things were definitely looking like the season would be great after Marlin won a qualifying race for the Daytona 500.
Sadly, things would go downhill very, very quickly.
On the final lap of the Daytona 500, Marlin made slight contact with the car of Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt would crash, collect Kenny Schrader, and die as a result.
Fans were quick to lash out at Marlin. He and his family were mailed, e-mailed, and faxed threats. Police even were set up outside the Ganassi race shop in Mooresville, NC after a threat was called in there.
To my knowledge, Ganassi never spoke on the tragedy. And, with the performance of Marlin, he didn't need too. His driver went on to win two races and finished a career high third in the points standings. Lefller, however, wasn't so successful. The Cingular driver failed to finish eight races, failed to start five and managed just one top ten at Homestead.
Jimmy Spencer replaced Leffler in 2002, driving the No. 42 Target Dodge. While he didn't qualify for two races and collected seven DNFs, Spencer scored two top fives and six top tens. Despite this, Ganassi fired Spencer, which lead "Mr. Excitement" to file a lawsuit against his former owner, alleging breach-of-conduct and even charging him with sabotaging cars.
"It's ridiculous; we never had a signed contract," Ganassi told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte. "We kept bartering back and forth during our original negotians, and we never got to a final agreement. I don't owe him anything, and he knows that."
Marlin, too, would eventually be released from the team. With 25 year old Casey Mears replacing Spencer, another young gun would, too, step into the team. After a serious neck injury suffered at Kansas, twenty six year old Jamie McMurray replaced Marlin—and won two weeks later. The following season, McMurray would replace Marlin.
McMurray, though, wouldn't stay long. They never seem to at Ganassi. He left in 2005 to replace Kurt Busch at Roush, and Mears also left a year later to replace Brian Vickers at Hendrick Motorsports.
19 year old Reed Sorenson came up to NASCAR in 2005, and David Stremme came up in 2006. Their two years together- before Stremme was eventually let go—saw the two go winless, and score four top fives—all from Sorenson- and fourteen top tens, three of which came from Stremme.
Ganassi's last win came in 2007 with Montoya at Infineon. While Montoya and his car owners had it out over several crew chief changes during the '08, he is signed through at least next year. The team's other Indy import, Dario Franchitti, only made 10 races, after failing to qualify for eight others, and his team was shut down before the summer Daytona race due to a lack of sponsorship.
Speaking of crew chiefs, Donnie Wingo, currently on top of the No. 41 Target Dodge, is rumored to be leaving after the season for a job at Roush-Fenway. Don't you love all this Ganassi drama?
What will happen next to the ever struggling, and sometimes controversial, Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is anyone's guess- because honestly, I don't think even they know what they're going to do.
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