Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Southern disaster

You probably already know that Chip Ganassi Racing is in shambles. The racing titan from Western Pennsylvania earlier this year disbanded the No. 40 NASCAR team and lost promising driver Reed Sorensen to Gillett-Evernham. Oddly, the same cannot be said for Ganassi’s open-wheel teams as they continue to flourish in IndyCar. His driver, Scott Dixon, this weekend won his second championship since 2003. Ganassi also has tapped Dario Franchitti, who struggled mightily in NASCAR, to replace outgoing Dan Wheldon. Franchitti, the 2007 Indy 500 winner and series champion, should be able to make a seamless transition. Why he ever attempted to switch to NASCAR is still questionable, but it did get him out of his contract with Andretti-Green Racing after last year.

But what is going on with Gannasi’s Cup program? Currently, he is running two mediocre cars and only has Juan Montoya under contract for 2009. That is a far cry from when Sterling Marlin was challenging for the Cup in 2002 before sitting out the last few races with an injury. Gannasi bought a piece of Sabco Motorsports in 2000 and thought he could turn the struggling team around. His reasons were well-founded because he was coming off four CART championships from 1996-99 and an Indy 500 victory in 2000. And to some extent, Ganassi proved he could succeed in NASCAR. However, it was short-lived.

Now the question should be asked whether he is tarnishing his racing legacy by running a second-rate NASCAR program that distracts attention from his IndyCar triumphs. Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs don’t flirt with other racing series. And recent history has rewarded them with great seasons. Maybe that’s the problem with Ganassi; although he is very dedicated to the Cup program, he has too much on his plate and isn’t able to keep up with the other teams. He clearly puts a lot of time into the IndyCars as this year’s championship shows, but at what cost to his Cup drivers? He has one foot out of NASCAR and that’s not the way to run a successful program. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before Montoya also walks out that door. If that happens, it’s only a matter of time before Ganassi closes the garage doors in North Carolina and takes up permanent residence in Indianapolis. His luster is starting to wear thin.

No comments: