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Ingram: Ganassi Gets Trifecta Plus One

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 26 2010

Chip Ganassi, Jamie McMurray and the crew of the No. 1 Sprint Cup celebrate their victory at the Brickyard 400 on Sunday. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

After his driver Jamie McMurray won the Brickyard 400 following the sudden demise of teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, team owner Chip Ganassi described himself as “the luckiest guy on the planet.”

And that was before Scott Dixon gave Ganassi a clean sweep on the day by winning the Izod IndyCar Series race in Edmonton without leading a single lap, not even the last one.

Not only did Dixon’s victory bring Ganassi the “Trifecta” plus one, the victory in Canada came at the expense of longtime rival Roger Penske.

It’s been said with good reason that no other team owner will ever again win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season. Such a single season is the stuff of dreams. Penske, the only other team owner fully committed to both the Sprint Cup and IndyCar, might. But Rick Hendrick won’t do it. Jack Roush won’t do it. Tony Stewart, well, he’ll probably give it a run for the money one day as a team owner.

What’s even more amazing: the only reason Ganassi got beat in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year was a 21st hour decision to send the team’s Riley-BMW to the garage for what turned out to be a mysterious non-problem in the chassis. Driver Justin Wilson thought he’d heard a “bang!” The Ganassi entry had been leading, but fell to second place after the trip to the garage and finished there three hours later.

Had they won Daytona’s world class 24-hour, the Ganassi team would have claimed a Quadruple Crown instead of a mere Trifecta.

At the Brickyard, Jamie McMurray thought he might have had a left side tire going down as he trundled the Bass Pro Shops Chevy down the pit road for his final stop. But crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion stuck with his call for a two-tire change on the right side, which proved to be the winning move.

Brian Pattie, Montoya’s crew chief, called for four tires, which proved to be decisive in a bad way. Mired in seventh place before the final green after leading the way down the pit road, Montoya joked sarcastically with his team and then did what Sports Illustrated coined many years ago as an “El Foldo.” After dominating in laps led again this year and with failure once again in sight, hard luck Montoya appeared to have crashed with disappointment before hitting the wall in Turn Four.

Call me old-fashioned, but these Trifectas, etc., really ought to belong to the same driver if it’s to really mean something. I’d rather see the same driver win at Daytona, Indy and in the Brickyard in order to call it a true Triple Crown. That would be insanely difficult and worthy of an upper case handle. As events proved on Sunday, if a team owner has more than one car in the race, then his chances of winning are vastly improved.

But until some other team owner repeats in these three major American races, then the Floyd known as “Chip” stands alone.

How does he do it? What’s the key ingredient, I once asked Ganassi, when it comes to choosing driver talent? “They have to believe in my way of doing things,” he replied.

That methodology has required some mixing and matching over the years of drivers and crew chiefs. In the case Sunday, Ganassi acquired “Bono” Manion as part of the merger with Dale Earnhardt Inc. The driving slot opened up for McMurray (available because Roush Fenway Racing was cutting back to four teams) when Martin Truex Jr., originally an Earnhardt driver, elected to move to Michael Waltrip Racing.

Some years, things just fall into place. Interestingly, both McMurray and Montoya, who migrated to Formula One for five and a half seasons, are in their second time around with Ganassi.

McMurray is clearly a beneficiary as well as a believer in the Ganassi system, where he won just his second Sprint Cup start as the replacement for injured Sterling Marlin when the latter suffered a broken neck while leading the points in a Ganassi Dodge in 2002.

Between that year and this season, McMurray has been the Eddie Haskell of NASCAR – always around the front, a pleasing personality and never without friends in the garage. But his failure to win regularly left him looking a little like he was overly polite and maybe even ingratiating.

That’s all changed this year – except for the fact that McMurray is one of motor racing’s nicest star drivers – now that Ganassi has combined assets with Teresa Earnhardt and continues to make the most of them in his second year as a Chevy team owner.

As for that race in Canada, the IndyCar folks have decided to go down that road known as making rulings on “blocking,” which meant Penske Racing driver Helio Castroneves was black-flagged while leading with two laps to go. Making judgement decisions on blocking is a little like a major league umpire making the calls behind home plate and at first base. The official can never be well positioned enough to always make the right call, leaving open the prospect of artificial results and inevitable unfairness.

Castroneves, who was hotter than any of the sweltering cockpits at Indy once the race in Canada was over, declined to pit during the final two laps. That meant runner-up Dixon won the race in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine without ever leading a lap.

Talk about an artificial finish.

The results in Indianapolis, on the other hand, were totally “Bono”-fide.

Quote of the Week: “I’ll tell you what, I’m speechless. I’m lucky and privileged to be in this business. I am honored to work with the people I work with. That is all I can tell you. I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. You wouldn’t dare dream this, you wouldn’t dare to dream this kind of year. That is the kind of year it has been.”

– Chip Ganassi, co-owner of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, after the victory of Jamie McMurray in the Brickyard 400, which made him the first team owner to win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 26 2010
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