Disarray or misfortune, these are tough times at Ganassi Racing
Disarray is a strong word, but it might be hard to find a better one to describe the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates organization in the wake of losing driver Reed Sorenson to a rival, writes David Newton.
Updated: August 26, 2008, 6:58 PM ETBy David Newton | ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chip Ganassi talked about expanding his Sprint Cup organization to four teams last season. He made a run at Kyle Busch, the hottest driver on the planet this season outside of Carl Edwards, before Busch settled on Joe Gibbs Racing.One has to wonder now whether Ganassi will have enough drivers and sponsors for two teams in 2009.Or whether he'll be in Cup at all.Ganassi released 71 people and folded the No. 40 team of Dario Franchitti on July 2 because of a lack of sponsorship. He lost longtime sponsor Texaco Havoline on the No. 42 car of Juan Pablo Montoya last week. On Tuesday, Reed Sorenson of the No. 41 car announced that he will drive for Gillett Evernham Motorsports next season.
A look at some of the highs and lows for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
- July 1, 2000: Chip Ganassi takes controlling interest in Sabco Racing, owned by Felix Sabates. Ganassi's CART teams had won the previous four titles.
- Aug. 19, 2001: Sterling Marlin gets the team's first Cup win, at Michigan International Speedway.
- Sept. 2, 2002: Marlin has points lead with 10 races remaining in the season.
- Oct. 5, 2002: Marlin's season ends with neck injury after crash at Kansas with six races remaining and him fifth in points.
- Oct. 13, 2002: Jamie McMurray, subbing for injured Marlin, wins the first race of his career, at Charlotte.
- 2003 Casey Mears is added to a three-driver lineup.
- 2005: Marlin's contract is not renewed, and McMurray leaves for Roush Fenway Racing at season's end. Reed Sorenson and David Stremme are in.
- 2006: Mears leaves for Hendrick Motorsports. Juan Pablo Montoya runs the final race of the season and is announced as full-time driver for 2007.
- June 24, 2007: Montoya earns the team's first win since McMurray's nearly five years earlier. Montoya's Sonoma road course victory is the sixth, and to date final, win in team history.
- Aug. 7, 2007: Kyle Busch opts to sign with Joe Gibbs Racing over Chip Ganassi Racing, Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc.
- 2007: Stremme is released at the end of his second season. Dario Franchitti is announced as his replacement.
- April 15, 2008: Ganassi flips crew chiefs between Montoya's team (Donnie Wingo) and Sorenson's team (Jimmy Elledge).
- May 20, 2008: Montoya gets his third crew chief in two months after Elledge is released.
- July 2, 2008: The No. 40 team of Franchitti is shut down, and 71 employees are released.
- Aug. 19, 2008: Texaco Havoline announces it will not return as co-primary sponsor of the No. 42 team of Montoya.
- Aug. 26, 2008: Sorenson, the driver of the No. 41, announces he will leave for Gillett Evernham Motorsports after the season.
That leaves Montoya and half a season's worth of sponsorship on the No. 42 car and a driverless No. 41 car with Target as the sponsor signed for 2009.If the organization wasn't in a state of disarray after Franchitti's team folded -- as Ganassi so hotly disputed then -- it certainly appears to be now.Or is it?Ganassi wouldn't have been so upset about the choice of "disarray" to describe his organization after the Franchitti shutdown if he simply didn't care or planned to get out of the sport and put all his focus on IndyCar racing.And what did he really lose in Sorenson? Here's a 22-year-old who, in 97 races, has no wins, five top-5s, 13 top-10s and one pole. He hasn't led a lap since he stayed out front for five in this year's opener at Daytona.It's not as though Ganassi is losing Edwards. Or even Jamie McMurray, who at least had a win and 48 top-10s before bolting from Ganassi to Roush Fenway Racing after the 2005 season.Would the organization be any worse with Jeremy Mayfield, who is sitting on his farm near Statesville, N.C., looking for a ride, in the 41? Or even Ken Schrader, who is three years older than 50-year-old Ganassi? Probably not.Minority owner Felix Sabates might have been justified when he said Sorenson "is today as good as he's ever going to be. If somebody else wants to put him in a car, fine with us."Ganassi's biggest problem is perception. He has suffered too many setbacks in a short period of time not to have his organization look like more of a disaster than the marriage between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.Had he shut down the No. 40 team, lost Havoline and not re-signed Sorenson in a three-year period, nobody would have blinked an eye. That it happened in three months brought out more red flags than a night race at Bristol before it was repaved.That there are rumors every day that the team is merging with another team or that Ganassi is selling out altogether doesn't help matters."Yeah, I understand that we are in the middle of the storm from a rumor perspective," Ganassi president Steve Lauletta said. "We know we're easy for somebody to sit and say, 'What about Ganassi?' I see it."I've heard everything. Team Red Bull is moving into our building. We're merging with Petty Enterprises. We're leasing engines from Evernham. It's just kind of gone over the top in terms of some of the things coming out."Lauletta made it clear that Ganassi has no plans to merge. He said that the organization without a doubt will field two teams next season and that, if sponsorship comes along, it easily could go to three or four teams.To expand, Ganassi Racing must first get the focus off the negative. Sponsors want to join an organization that will help sell products, not tarnish their reputation. "I just feel like we're continually in the middle of the rumor mill and 99.9 percent of what's said is all wrong," Lauletta said. "Yes, we worked hard to keep Havoline on our team. They made the decision to get out of the sport. They didn't leave us for another team to do marketing."We did the smart business decision to shut down the 40 team and put all of our resources on our two other teams."Lauletta said he also believes it was a smart decision to part ways with Sorenson, but that creates yet another problem. All the big names are re-signed for next season. The little ones aren't any better than the ones he has.He could sign another open-wheel driver, perhaps Dan Wheldon or Scott Dixon off his own IndyCar Series team. He could bring back Franchitti, which Lauletta said is a possibility based on the way Franchitti has performed in the Nationwide Series car.And most wouldn't mind seeing Franchitti's wife, Ashley Judd, around the garage a bit more, as well.But there's no guarantee those options will take the organization forward and save a company that has only one victory since 2002 and only six in 700 races.Ganassi's only saving grace is that Target has agreed to an extension that should afford him to run two Cup cars next season and Montoya is committed to him. If he had lost either, as many had speculated would happen, the end indeed would be near.
But if things truly were as dismal as they appear, you would think Sorenson might have piled on with a few digs. He definitely had the motivation after Sabates' comment.Instead, Sorenson talked about all the hard work going on to turn things around. He talked about how things are in place to compete this year and next. He talked about what a great sponsor he had in Target. The most negative thing Sorenson said was, "As a race car driver, nobody likes to not have a chance to run up front and get top-5s and top-10s.""So I would say it kind of brings you down over a period of time," he said.But is the sky falling at Ganassi Racing? Or is this like Tropical Storm Fay, an extended pelting that eventually will move on?"I don't see where they have held back on anything competitivewise they need to do on the Target car or on Juan Pablo's car," Sorenson said. "It seems like they made some changes they needed to make, and after that it seemed like everything seems to be OK."But OK isn't what Ganassi wants to be about. It's certainly not what he's about in the IndyCar Series, where his drivers are seemingly in Victory Lane every other week.So, right or wrong, people are going to continue saying his Cup organization is in disarray until something happens to prove otherwise.
Jonathan Ferrey /Allsport Sterling Marlin, left, and Chip Ganassi were riding high after Ganassi's first Cup win as an owner in 2001.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.