After trying season, Ganassi stays steady
January 23, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Following a disappointing 2011 season in which Earnhardt Ganassi Racing drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray finished 21st and 27th, respectively, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings, frustrated team owner Chip Ganassi made wholesale changes.
At the beginning of 2012 in came a new technical director and team manager for the organization, and practically a brand-new team for Montoya -- including a new crew chief, Chris Heroy.
The changes produced a frustratingly similar outcome. McMurray finished 21st in the Cup points standings, and Montoya was 22nd. Between them, the drivers posted five top-10 finishes in 36 races.
Despite the mirrored results, it was a calmer, more patient Ganassi that took center stage Wednesday morning during the NASCAR Sprint Media tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Tuesday, Jan. 22 Video: NASCAR President Mike Helton on the Gen-6 car
His message: When one makes such wholesale changes, it takes time for success to take root. With a brand-new Generation-6 car that has everyone in the shop raving, the team expects 2013 to be the start of a fruitful future.
“I would say last year's changes were a wholesale paint job, if you will,” Ganassi said. “This year's changes are more like the work of an artist as opposed to a painter. A little more fine-tuning type of adjustments -- oftentimes you have to see some patina before you can actually see what the true color is of something. I think this year's changes are much smaller and more refined than a year ago.”
Perhaps the biggest visible change this season for EGR comes with a new sponsorship deal. The organization has partnered with Cessna, which designs airplanes and is considered the industry leader in private aviation.
Cessna will sponsor multiple races on McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet SS. The sleek, black paint job was unveiled in a hangar at Concord Regional Airport, along with a company-made private jet and helicopter.
With that sponsorship locked up, and with the stability gained by keeping the core together, it’s EGR’s turn to take flight.
EGR hasn’t had a Cup driver in Victory Lane since McMurray won the Bank of America 500 in October 2010. That was also the season in which the driver won both the season-opening Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, two of the Cup Series’ crown jewels.
Winning big races isn’t just a floating concept in the minds of EGR drivers and team personnel -- it has happened in recent years. The knowledge that it can happen again is what drives the organization to stay patient with an approach it believes will work in the long run.
“I think if you go back and look at my comments from last year, I said that it wasn't going to come right out of the box and be a big change,” McMurray said. “When you bring in so many new people, everyone has good ideas and it takes a while to go through all those ideas. And a lot of ideas don't work, so you have to weed through those. For us, the last 10 races of the year were really good, not because of our results but because we spent those 10 races doing everyone's ideas and really try to work through those and see what were going to be big needle-movers.”
Some of the big needle-movers were concepts that didn’t concern last year’s teams or last year’s cars.
When it became clear that neither McMurray nor Montoya would challenge for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the teams did the next logical step -- start thinking about 2013.
Knowing that figuring out a brand-new car was a massive undertaking, and that every driver on every Cup team would face the same set of challenges, work on the 2013 season began in earnest in the summer of 2012.
“We’ve kept the personnel stable and we know we have good people. That was really our choice, to focus on the car,” said Heroy, who is 35 and entering his second season as Montoya’s crew chief. “We went to the test tracks, ironed all that stuff out and started to make our gains there.”
Both drivers and Heroy said they were pleased with offseason testing at Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte. At least one driver was consistently near the top 10 in practice times at the Preseason Thunder, with Montoya having the best showing on the final day. With the field reduced to 15 drivers, Montoya was fifth on the speed chart in the final practice run.
The Colombian was also 11th in the more robust field of 33 during testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway
“We’re going testing at the same places where, last year we were struggling. Now we’ve got one of the fastest cars,” Montoya said. “Things that are completely outrageous, just bad luck, were happening to us in 2012. It was just a rough year for everybody. The good thing is, it makes everybody work harder and become more focused. I think it’s going to pay off.”