Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix not only marked the end of the Cup season but also Chip Ganassi Racing’s time in NASCAR – was it a success?
Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation is no more. The team has shut its shop and been taken over by Pitbull-backed Trackhouse Racing with driver Daniel Suarez. While admitting he wasn’t looking to sell up, Ganassi accepted Trackhouse’s offer in the summer to bow out of stock car racing’s highest level.
For the man who likes winners, his team could never quite get over the line and claim a Cup title, despite winning some of NASCAR’s biggest races. Ganassi also brought through a certain K Larson, nurturing this generational talent before the events of spring 2020 ended that relationship.
But, at the end of the day, was Chip Ganassi a success or failure in NASCAR?
Chip Ganassi takes NASCAR plunge
A son of Pittsburgh, when Ganassi arrived in NASCAR in 2001 the phrase ‘square peg, round hole’ sprang to mind. Here was a man unaccustomed to stock car racing, making his name as a team owner on the open-wheel circuit in CART (now IndyCar).
He started well, taking control of the SABCO team in 2001 and keeping owner Felix Sabates on-board at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
That first year, running Dodge machinery, the team had veteran Sterling Marlin in the #40 and Jason Leffler starting in the #1.
Marlin would go on and take Ganassi’s first NASCAR success at Michigan that year, following it up at Charlotte.
Indeed, Marlin would finish third in the 2001 championship for Ganassi at its first attempt at Cup.
As it turned out, this would be Ganassi’s greatest success in the NASCAR standings, never winning a title.
Steady results and the odd win would follow during the next decade as Ganassi merged in 2009 with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Chip Ganassi merger brings success to NASCAR
Arguably, 2010 was Ganassi’s most successful season in NASCAR – with driver Jamie McMurray in the #1 Chevrolet.
McMurray, who made a record 442 starts for Ganassi in NASCAR, delivered the owner his only two Crown Jewel races in 2010.
Then 33-year-old McMurray delivered Ganassi the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
Chip Ganassi Racing also won the 2010 Indy 500 through Dario Franchitti (right, below).
That meant Ganassi became the first team owner to win both premier events in American motorsport in the same season.
Despite merging with DEI, Ganassi still failed to turn itself into a regular success story in NASCAR. And so, for 2014, the partnership was ended as the CGR name returned.
As the Cup Series boomed and grew exponentially in the 2000s and 2010s, powerhouses such as Hendrick, Gibbs, Stewart-Haas and, to a degree, Penske left Ganassi behind.
Larson brings new energy to CGR operation
After drifting in the early/mid 2010s, never finishing higher than 15th in the standings, California’s latest NASCAR export arrived. Out from the #42 went firebrand ex-Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya and in came Kyle Larson for 2014.
Even he struggled to begin with. But a win at Michigan in 2016 sent Larson off, and brought about Chip Ganassi’s most successful period in NASCAR.
2017 was Ganassi’s outright most successful season in NASCAR. Larson delivered four wins – the first time the team had multiple wins since McMurray in 2010.
He took eighth in the standings in the #42, the best Ganassi had recorded since Marlin in 2001. Larson took six wins for Ganassi all told.
Only five drivers ever did win for the team in its various guises. The last would be at the hands of Kurt Busch at Atlanta in 2021 – the final race on the battered old surface there.
CGR NASCAR stats
- Entries – 756 – 2001 Daytona 500 – 2021 Phoenix season-finale
- Wins – 20
- Pole positions – 36
- Top fives – 196
- Top 10s – 474
- Laps led – 8,714
- Best championship position – third – Sterling Marlin, 2001
Ganassi also took 20 wins in the NASCAR XFinity Series.
Was Chip Ganassi a success in NASCAR?
It’s a shame Ganassi is withdrawing from NASCAR now. The Next Gen car rules will be designed to rein in the powerhouses of Hendrick and Gibbs.
In theory, for a team like Ganassi or Richard Childress Racing, the new rules package would seem ideal. A team not quite at the level of the juggernauts, but one comfortably clear of backmarkers. An outfit, who, on their day, were capable of nicking a win.
It would have been interesting to see if Ganassi could have steered his team to more success. After all, his final driver combination of Busch and Ross Chastain was a very strong pairing.
Coupled with shrewd operators like Matt McCall atop Busch’s box, the ingredients were maybe there. Maybe.
Nevertheless, NASCAR is in Ganassi’s history books now. The wins, the defeats, the successes and the failures are all part of the fabric that makes Chip Ganassi such a unique figure in the world of racing.
Chip Ganassi NASCAR wins by driver:
- Kyle Larson – six
- Jamie McMurray – five
- Sterling Marlin – four
- Kurt Busch – three
- Juan Pablo Montoya – two
He achieved more success in NASCAR than most teams will ever accomplish. It’s just there was someone better at it than he was. His focus will now turn to running his uber-successful IndyCar programme, as well as sportscars and Extreme E.
Although he will never do so again in NASCAR, you can be sure of one thing about Ganassi and racing:
We have not seen the last of his #Ilikewinners tweets…