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Monday, February 9, 2009
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing pretty in pink


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Felix Sabates asked for an Earnhardt Ganassi Racing shirt with color in it before leaving the race shop for Daytona International Speedway. He was tired of the white that was sort of a signature for Chip Ganassi Racing and wanted a change.

So he was given a pink shirt, which seemed all right until he arrived for Sunday's qualifying for the Daytona 500 and saw co-owner Chip Ganassi.

He was wearing pink as well.

Coincidence? You bet.

But maybe it's a sign that everybody's getting on the same page at the newly merged company. Having Martin Truex Jr. on the pole and three of the six fastest cars -- Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth and Aric Almirola sixth -- doesn't hurt, either.

I wouldn't have said that six months ago. At that time, I suggested that Ganassi Racing was in disarray after releasing 71 employees, folding the No. 40 team of Dario Franchitti and losing longtime sponsor Texaco Havoline.

That didn't sit well with Ganassi. He called me out in a crowd during a behind-the-hauler news conference a few days later. He vowed in a way only Ganassi can that he wouldn't speak to me for a long time. Maybe forever.

I still believe "disarray" was an accurate description at the time. So did one of his team members, who suggested Ganassi didn't know what the word meant.

It doesn't matter now. The word no longer applies.

Ganassi did the right thing when he merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Both organizations did. They combined the best of both worlds -- and each had a lot to offer -- to make a stronger company.

But what I like best about this deal is the Ganassi factor. DEI had the best of everything equipment-wise last season. Ask outside pole-sitter Mark Martin, who called 2008 one of the most fun of his career.

What the company didn't have was a leader around the shop and at the track. That's not Teresa Earnhardt's style. Truex actually referred to her as a ghost.

With Ganassi around on a regular basis, the mechanics, engineers and even floor sweepers won't feel so disconnected when things don't go well. That Ganassi opted not to go to the Super Bowl to watch his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers play because it would create the wrong impression was a class act.

It gave me a newfound appreciation for the man.

I even liked his pink shirt and may wear a pink shirt of my own for the Daytona 500. Sabates certainly plans to wear his.

"I'm gonna go home and wash this and wear it to every race the rest of the week," he said. "Maybe the rest of the season."