Sorenson driving in shadows of Montoya, Franchitti at Chip Ganassi Racing


CONCORD, N.C. -- Felix Sabates jokes it has been suggested that Reed Sorenson will need to wreck Dale Earnhardt Jr. just to get noticed this season.

Such sentiments are understandable, considering the mild-mannered Sorenson is the only driver on his team not to have won the Indianapolis 500. He also is the only American-born driver in Chip Ganassi Racing's Sprint Cup arsenal, making it easier for the 21-year-old to get lost in the shuffle behind his internationally known teammates.

Yes, Juan Pablo Montoya and "rookie" Dario Franchitti will be the ones receiving the bulk of attention when the preseason talk turns to Ganassi's team. That's fine with Sorenson, who plans to make his news on the track.

Entering his third Cup campaign, Sorenson knows it's time to start winning. Ganassi and his co-owner, Sabates, are among those who agree, with Sabates saying part of the key is to provide the Peachtree City, Ga., native with better equipment than last season.

Montoya's Cup win at Sonoma in June was the first for Ganassi's Cup operation since Jamie McMurray won at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2002. And the team has yet to place a driver in the Chase since NASCAR's playoff format was instituted in '04, so obviously, there's still work to be done.

But in Sorenson's mind, the time is now.

"To win," he said when asked his expectations for this season. "Like Chip said, I think he's got all the other series mastered pretty well, so I think it's time to get the Sprint Cup cars going good and winning races."

With Franchitti traversing the learning curve that Sorenson drove in '06 and Montoya endured last year, Sorenson figures it's up to himself and Montoya to put Ganassi back in Victory Lane. That sounds like a pressure-packed situation, but Sorenson said that's nothing new.

"There's always pressure in racing; I've felt that since I was 6," he said. "We're ready to win, and I think this is the year we need to turn this team around and go from a 19th-place-in-points team to getting into the Chase and getting better. I think we can do it this year."

Ganassi said Sorenson is "about ready to make the next step, and I think he will this season."

Sorenson said the rookie mistakes are out of his system and some better luck won't hurt things, either. He crashed out of four races a year ago, blew engines in a pair and ran out of gas at Sonoma.

There wasn't one time last year when I thought of Juan any different other than a teammate trying to help me when I needed it. Once you get to the racetrack, you forget about a lot of that stuff and just focus on what you're doing.

-- Reed Sorenson

He posted three top-5s and six top-10s, but completed just 86.2 percent of the laps run, resulting in a 22nd-place finish in points.

Crew chief Jimmy Elledge won't guarantee a win this year but thinks it can be achieved.

"I think he's there. Reed Sorenson is so talented, naturally, that it's excelled him to this level fast and excelled him to a level where his abilities are equal to [his peers]," Elledge said. "That's been an adjustment for him to learn, and not from a standpoint of that he can't do it, it's the discouragement that it didn't happen [instantly] and getting realistic with, 'Hey, we're playing in a field with [all] A-game players.'

"We had a year where, expect the unexpected, just got you to the point where you were on defense all the time and not offense. We're going to try to get the year kicked off on the right foot and be focused on what we need to be focused on, which is the war and not the battle. I think he's got the ability to do it, and the mindset and the maturity for sure. Get him in some good cars and good pit stops, and get it done."

If that happens, Sorenson might just start to carve out a little limelight for himself. After all, he is the "veteran" of the team.

"Once we get going and start testing and going to the racetracks, a lot of that is forgotten," Sorenson said. "We don't really think about that much stuff, as far as who's older and who's been where and who's won what races.

"There wasn't one time last year when I thought of Juan any different other than a teammate trying to help me when I needed it. Once you get to the racetrack, you forget about a lot of that stuff and just focus on what you're doing."

Asked if his childhood dreams ever included two foreign teammates, Sorenson laughed.

"No, I never really thought of it," he said. "A lot of the visions were winning races, so we'd like to do that here pretty soon."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.