There’s a big chip on Ganassi’s shoulder

Chip Ganassi

Even with so many wins and championships to reflect on, car owner Chip Ganassi still is preoccupied by a single misstep — last year's Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Ganassi formed a super team for the biggest race on the Grand-Am Sports Car Series, but it wasn't enough to beat a Porsche-powered Riley from a new team created with equipment and drivers from Brumos Racing.

One of Ganassi's cars still finished second, less than a half-lap behind. It marked the fifth consecutive year the formidable owner finished either first or second in the sports car marathon.

"It's certainly one of the tough ones," Ganassi said as he prepared for another 24-hour race today at the Daytona International Speedway. "To finish second in that race last year didn't hurt that much until we had the year we had after that race. It hurt a little more then. That's why we want to win that race. That's why we're going back. That's one that got away, absolutely."

Ganassi is attacking today's race with all of his resources. He also owns teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the IRL Izod IndyCar Series, and he's tapped into those operations.

His lineup of eight drivers includes winners of 63 IndyCar races, 56 Grand-Am races, seven Formula One races and eight NASCAR races. Together, they've also combined to win the Indianapolis 500 six times, the Daytona 500 once and the Grand Prix of Monaco once, as well as six IndyCar and five Grand-Am championships.

"That's one of the things that, for me personally, been so exciting working for Chip," Scott Pruett said. "He never scrimps on racing. Never. The people, the equipment, what we do and how we do it."

Last year was Ganassi's banner season. Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Dario Franchitti won the Indianapolis 500. Every single driver on his payroll won a race, and two of his teams — Franchitti and the sports-car tandem of Pruett and Memo Rojas — won championships.

And yet, all everyone thinks about is finishing second in the 24-hour race.

"That's the one that got away from us," Pruett said. "The achievements from last year, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Indy 500 our championship, the IndyCar championship and all the wins, it's absolutely been stellar.

"That starts at the top, and that's Chip. Those of us who know Chip know he can get pretty fired up over stuff. Sometimes you're on the receiving end of that. But it shows where his passion is at. It shows it's all about racing and winning."

Ganassi's team won the twice-around-the clock sports car race in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but it slipped to second-place finishes in each of the last two years. The loss in 2009 was by 100 yards, the closest finish in endurance racing history.

This year Ganassi will send out two BMW-powered Riley sports cars. One will have defending Grand-Am Daytona Prototype champions Pruett, Rojas, Joey Hand and Graham Rahal; the other will have Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, McMurray and Franchitti.

The Pruett-Rojas-Hand-Rahal car will start third behind the pole-winning Porsche-Riley of Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long, Seth Neiman and Johannes van Overbeek and the Chevrolet-Dallara of Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, Ricky Taylor and Ryan Briscoe.

The second Ganassi car will start fifth.

McMurray has the opportunity to join A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Jimmie Johnson, who's in the 10th-place starting Chevrolet-Riley, can accomplish the feat, too.

"It's a lot of fun for me to go down there and meet the different drivers from the different series," McMurray said. "It's fun to hear what they think of NASCAR and you tell them what you think of their series."

Montoya has won the Indianapolis 500, Monaco, two Sprint Cup Series races, two 24-hour races and an IndyCar championship. Franchitti has three IndyCar championships and three Indianapolis 500 wins. Dixon has two IndyCar championships and two Indy 500 wins.

"Twenty-four hours is more something that when you're part of Chip Ganassi Racing, you just do it," Montoya said. "It's not like we say, 'Hey, let's go do it.' It's part of being at Chip Ganassi Racing. It's exciting.

"It's always fun because you're always in a good car. Chip Ganassi always has a great car no matter where you go."

Ganassi said the sports car series is every bit as important as his IndyCar and NASCAR programs. That's why he puts so much effort into it.

"It's great we're able to bring all these guys together from all these different types of series into that one race," Ganassi said. " … It's great to see them all converge on Daytona. Florida Times Union

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