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1on1: Chip Ganassi feels on top of the world

February 15, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Chip Ganassi still relishing last season's success, but ready for more

Well, you can never quite have it all.

But car owner Chip Ganassi came close in 2010. His five race teams he owns, at least in part, in the Sprint Cup Series, the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series won a combined 19 races and two championships last season. He co-owns and is the driving force behind the Chevrolets driven by Jamie McMurray and Juan Montoya, respectively, at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in Cup -- and last year watched with delight as McMurray won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, two of NASCAR's biggest races. Driver Dario Franchitti also captured the Indianapolis 500 on the IndyCar side.

"Let's just say this: if you win the right races, making or not making the Chase doesn't become so important."


About the only things missing in the Pittsburgh native's resume in the last year were a win by his beloved Steelers in the Super Bowl (they lost to the Green Bay Packers) and a spot or perhaps two in the Chase. He talked about all that and more with NASCAR.COM.

Q: Was it a different feeling coming back to Daytona this year as the defending Daytona 500 winning car owner? And if so, how?

Ganassi: It certainly was a different feeling, I can tell you that. Any time you come in as a defending champion, it feels good and gives you a little better sense of being. But that certainly doesn't buy you a hall pass to be at the front or be competitive.

Q: We understand you were honored on Heinz Field prior to a Pittsburgh Steelers' game last season? What was that like?

Ganassi: I think it was the first time they played the [New York] Jets [last season]. Unfortunately, they lost.

I was surprised at how many of the Steelers actually followed racing. I expected them to be like, 'How's racing?' Instead they were like, 'Hey, what happened at such-and-such track on that second pit stop?' So that part of it was pretty good. I was surprised, in particular, at how much [Steelers' players] James Farrior and James Harrison knew about racing and what we had going on.

Q: What did the ceremony involving you actually consist of?

Ganassi: I went on the field before the beginning of the game. They showed the last couple of laps of the Daytona 500 and the last couple laps of the Indy 500, so that was kind of nice. They don't do that kind of thing all the time.

Q: Where did you watch the Super Bowl?

Ganassi: In a box with Art Rooney Jr., who is [team president] Art [Rooney II's] uncle, Pat Rooney and some of the other Steelers executives. It was in a Steelers box, but not the main Steelers box. That was kind of cool.

I sat with them and [baseball Hall of Famer] Reggie Jackson and [former Steelers great and football Hall of Famer] Mel Blount, some local bankers, the mayor of Pittsburgh and a couple of other local people.

Q: How was the new Texas Stadium?

Ganassi: I tell you what, that was a nice stadium ... absolutely the nicest place I've ever been.

Q: Did you watch the famed Jumbotron or try to catch the game on the field?

Ganassi: We watched that. It's nice. It's like a big, giant TV. It goes from the 20-yard line to the 20-yard line. You watch that thing and then you look down to the field, and it takes a few seconds for your eyes to refocus. It just didn't turn out to be the outcome we wanted.

Q: Speaking of more favorable outcomes from your point of view, where did last year's season rank for you as a car owner with the success you had across the board?

Ganassi: Well, you'd have to say it was at the top. I think it would have to be at the top of any owner's year-end take, wouldn't it? It was pretty special. A lot of times you can't wait for a season to end, but that was an exciting year for all of us. I've got to be honest with you, I didn't want it to end.

Q: What do you think was the key to your success?

Ganassi: We just focused on going to the next race. I tell you guys this all the time: I'm not a great philosopher, I'm not a race mechanic, I'm not a team manager, I'm not a driver. I just go to the next race and we try to win the next race. I think that's the way to approach this.

Q: Isn't that an oversimplification of your role, though? You make it sound like you just tag along ...

Ganassi: There are a lot of things that make up this business, and I certainly have my daily duties. But I tell you, the most rewarding thing is being part of a group of people who want to win races.

Q: Did you have time to enjoy last season, or did you immediately have to start grinding on getting ready for this season?

Ganassi: Sure, you can enjoy it a little bit. It's an enjoyment when I sit around like now and talk about it. But I don't show up in Charlotte for a race and say, 'How about last year?' It's just not that kind of thing. I'm sure there will be a time when I can sit back and relish it more. But I think the nature of this business is that you have to keep looking ahead, not looking back.

Q: Speaking exclusively now of the NASCAR side of your operations, was it still a great year last year despite not having one of your cars make the Chase cutoff?

Ganassi: We had a great year last year and we didn't make the Chase. And I'm telling you, there were cars that finished in front of us who made the Chase and didn't have as good a year as we did.

Q: So for you, making the Chase is not as important as winning races -- especially the right races?

Ganassi: To me, it's not. I was at dinner with [some television] guys. They were in [Pittsburgh] for a football game. And they were saying, 'Everybody in sports wants to compare themselves to other sports. They want to say we're this and they're that.' And then they said, 'But you know what's great about sports? They're all different. Every single one of them is different. The attraction is different, the nuances are different, the playoff systems are different. Even some of them can't have a playoff system. ... All the ways you get to be a champion are different.'

And that's what is great about sports in general. They're more intricate than they first appear. So to sit there and say, 'Is it this or that' on anything, I think, is wrong. It's not black or white. There are a lot of different shades of gray in there.

Q: Do you think some folks might be shocked to hear you say that about not being necessarily disappointed about not making the Chase?

Ganassi: If we had the same year in 2011 that we had in 2010, I would not be disappointed. ... Let's just say this: if you win the right races, making or not making the Chase doesn't become so important.