Ganassi would listen to possible solutions

Updated: October 14, 2005, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. -- Chip Ganassi has softened his stance regarding driver Jamie McMurray, who wants out of his contract so he can drive for Roush Racing.

McMurray signed a contract in July to drive for Roush beginning in 2007, hoping that the early announcement would force Ganassi to let him leave at the end of this year. Ganassi steadfastly refused to even negotiate an early release.

But on Friday, Ganassi sounded a little bit more flexible about finding a solution.

"There are no talks at this time, but there could be if someone came to me with a solution," Ganassi said. "I need a solution, not a pile of money. I need a driver to replace Jamie."

The McMurray situation got complicated when Kurt Busch said he was leaving Roush to drive for Penske Racing in 2007. Penske has an opening next season in the No. 2 Dodge because Rusty Wallace is retiring and would like to put Busch in the car right away.

But Roush will not let Busch leave because it would give him two holes to fill: Busch's ride, plus the seat McMurray was supposed to fill upon Mark Martin's retirement.

It was believed Roush and Penske were trying to work out a deal, but any solutions would likely have to include Ganassi giving McMurray an early release.

"Look, I am not going to be Jack Roush or Roger Penske's whipping boy," Ganassi said. "I'm the end of the line on this thing and I'm trying to put together my team, too."

Ganassi is expanding to four teams next season, bringing Busch Series drivers Reed Sorenson and David Stremme up to Nextel Cup as teammates to Casey Mears and McMurray. If he allows McMurray to leave early, he'll have to scramble to find a suitable replacement for the No. 42 Dodge.

If nothing changes, Martin has indicated he will postpone retirement and drive one more season for Roush in the No. 6 Ford. If that happens, Roush said he'd likely put McMurray in Busch's seat (assuming Busch stays through 2006) and move Todd Kluever up to Martin's ride in 2007.

Penske would still be in a bind, needing to find a one-year seat filler until Busch was clear to join the team.

On the surface
Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler is confident he'll get a safe, clean race Saturday night despite smoothing he's done to the track surface.

"I'm not saying there won't be caution flags," Wheeler said. "But many of them will be based on the intensity of the racing right now and will not be a result of the track surface."

Wheeler used a grinding process called "levigating" in the turns of the track earlier this year to smooth out the trademark bumps in an effort to foster more side-by-side racing. After a NASCAR-record 22 cautions during the May race, Wheeler went back and levigated the rest of the surface.

Drivers were outraged by the surface during a test session last month that saw points leader Tony Stewart and championship contender Greg Biffle both wreck.

Wheeler blamed the testing problems on a lack of rubber on the track, and tried to remedy it by dragging tires around the facility the past week. It gave the surface a grip it has been lacking, but the track is still extremely fast with qualifying speeds surpassing 192 mph.

Drivers have praised Wheeler for doing his best to fix the racing conditions, but are still annoyed he levigated the track in the first place.

The levigation, Wheeler said, was meant to temporarily stave off an eventual repaving.

Wheeler said he will now be forced to repave the entire surface this winter, and is also considering adding a gradual banking around the 1.5-mile track.

"I don't think the track will be in the form it currently is the next time we race here [in May]," Wheeler said. "I'm satisfied with what we have for Saturday night, but we'll make some changes before the teams come back next year."

Blaney looking
Dave Blaney is looking for a new job now that Busch Series driver Clint Bowyer is taking his seat at Richard Childress Racing.

The Bowyer announcement is scheduled for Saturday, but Blaney is already working the garage looking for new work.

"I don't know where I'm going to be at next year. That's all I know," Blaney said. "There's still a lot things that could happen with other things going on, obviously with Penske and Roush and Ganassi and all that.

"So, who knows? Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we'll know."

Blaney has one top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 193 career starts. He is 31st in points this season.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press