Ganassi charging toward history

Published 11:54 pm Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Chip Ganassi is still chasing Roger Penske.

Even after winning two of the last three Indianapolis 500s and last year’s remarkable triple crown — the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 — Ganassi isn’t satisfied.

Email newsletter signup

“I’ve been working for 20 years to get these guys where I have them,” he said, referring to Team Penske.

Trying to keep up with Penske — 155 IndyCar wins and 12 points title — is no easy task.

“I think the important thing to keep in mind today is that whatever the sport is, it should be about higher performance, excellence, perseverance and hard work,” said Ganassi, who has 81 wins and seven points titles. “For a guy like Roger to set the bar high like that, that’s something for our team to shoot for.”

Though Penske remains the standard, Ganassi seems to have the upper hand — for now.

Dario Franchitti rallied with a dramatic second-half comeback to take last year’s points title away from Team Penske driver Will Power, the most dominant driver early in 2010. It was Franchitti’s second straight IndyCar crown and the third in a row for Target Chip Ganassi.

Although Power takes the points lead into the Indy 500, Franchitti lurks just 14 points back in second. A win Sunday would make Franchitti the second foreign-born driver with three wins, joining Penske’s Helio Castroneves, and would give Ganassi his third win in four years on the track that turned Penske into a household name in racing and business.

It’s not that Ganassi dislikes Penske; he just wants to break all his records.

With expectations so high, Ganassi isn’t afraid to confront those who make mistakes or cheer them when they are successful.

“He’s very good at putting confidence in people,” driver Scott Dixon said. “He’s stern, and he knows what he wants.”

Pole Day was a perfect example.

When Franchitti and Dixon both ran out of fuel on the fourth lap of their Pole Day shootout, Ganassi didn’t have to say a word. Franchitti stomped back to the garage without talking to reporters. Ganassi flung his arms in the air. Mike Hull, the team’s managing director, didn’t say what was discussed in the meeting, and he didn’t have to.

“I can imagine it’s a pretty exciting in the team truck car at the minute, and I haven’t seen Chip yet,” Dixon said after his run, drawing laughter.

Franchitti believes it’s that fiery passion that has allowed Ganassi to create a dominant team.

“He is one of the most competitive people I have ever met,” Franchitti said. “Scott told me the other day that he had mellowed. If that’s the case, I’d hate to have seen him before.”

Ganassi added a NASCAR team to his stable in 2000 and last year won both at Daytona and the Brickyard, a feat not even Penske had achieved.

In IndyCar, he has signed two young American prospects, Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball, as he looks toward the future. The hope is they’ll be ready to replace the 38-year-old Franchitti and 30-year-old Dixon whenever they retire.

“These guys probably represent the next generation of drivers, and they’ll be around IndyCar racing for a long time,” Ganassi said last December.

Ganassi has a long history of hiring the right driver at the right time. He hired Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi to drive in the CART Series. And he’s won at Indy with New Zealand’s Scott Dixon and Scotland’s Franchitti.

And he remains ever eager for more victories.

With Dixon starting from the middle of Row 1, Franchitti on the outside of Row 3 and Kimball and Rahal side-by-side in Row 10, Ganassi expects to quench his thirst and sip the milk in Victory Lane.