Commentary

Ganassi won't take deserved credit

Updated: May 31, 2010, 12:30 AM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The trouble with Chip Ganassi's arrival Sunday as the first team owner to win both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year was he wouldn't take any credit whatsoever for it.

I mean, zilch. To hear him tell it, he was just a hanger-on as Dario Franchitti crossed the finish line first at the Indy 500, "just the guy who gets his name on the door" of the racing compounds he runs in Northside Indianapolis and in Concord, N.C.

Tough guy that he is -- at 52, his visage is still that of that kid you knew in the sixth grade who wouldn't take anything off anybody …

Fiery a competitor as he is -- "That's bull----!" he growled at Indy officials on live TV during qualifying on May 22 …

You just have to understand that Floyd Ganassi Jr., a construction magnate's son from Pittsburgh, just cannot bring himself to talk about himself when he wins.

[+] EnlargeChip Ganassi, Dario Franchitti
AP Photo/Darron CummingsDario Franchitti celebrates his Indy 500 victory with car owner Chip Ganassi on Sunday. Ganassi became the first owner to win Indy and NASCAR's Daytona 500 in the same year.

He won't admit he does a gainful thing. Someone asked him last week why he's a team owner, and he said, "Because I'm too lazy to work."

But the way he runs his teams, he works harder than if he were laying bricks and carrying lumber for his self-made father's company.

He builds with scraps and remnants when he has to. He should write a book about the mantra of every businessman today: doing more with less.

Predict the first guy ever to win America's two top motor races in the same year, and you'd have leaned toward Roger Penske, the silver-haired baron of just about every kind of racing.

Or maybe you'd have figured the quietly mighty Rick Hendrick would digress from NASCAR into open-wheel just long enough to show 'em how it's done.

But Chip Ganassi? The blue-collar owner? Winning Daytona with a patchwork team formed in a merger of necessity with Teresa Earnhardt, and with a driver on the rebound in Jamie McMurray?

Then giving Franchitti second life in IndyCar after pulling the plug, due to lack of funding, on Franchitti's confidence-sapping try at NASCAR in 2008?

Ganassi's team gave Franchitti such a dominant car on Sunday that the outcome of the Indy 500 was in little doubt after the first two corners of the first lap, when Franchitti went from third to first so mightily it was clear he intended to stay there the rest of the way.

Ganassi drives me nuts at times like these, for the bigger his accomplishment, the faster he drops from cantankerous competitor to humble victor.

I pleaded with him this time. Just this once, talk about yourself. It's important.

"Eddie, you know I can't do that. I'm not good at that," he said.

He launched immediately into Franchitti's seizing command of Sunday's race in the first few seconds.

"Dario asserted himself on the start," he said. "He got by Will [Power, starting second] going into [Turn] 1. He went around the outside of Power. And then he passed Helio [Castroneves] coming off 2. … That kind of set the stage, I think.

"That was a very important moment, where he kind of pounded his fist in staking his claim. Certainly you can't win the race on the start, but you can lose it. I think that went a long way toward getting him up in the seat."

Indeed, Franchitti essentially led at will the rest of the way.

But look here now: The fact remains that Chip Ganassi is the first guy to win Daytona and Indy in the same year.

"Jamie McMurray and [sponsor] Bass Pro Shops down there, won that race in February," he said. "Dario and Target won the race here today. …

"I didn't drive either car. I didn't change any tires. I didn't put any fuel in the cars. I don't do any of that stuff. I have hundreds of people that do that kind of thing.

"I'm very, very lucky, is what it comes down to. I'm very lucky."

But you put the teams together, Chip.

"Yeah," he snorted. "For 25 damn years or more I've been working on it."

That's the point. He has persevered. He has struggled, especially in NASCAR. He has never dominated like Hendrick. He has been stronger in IndyCar, but since he's been at or near the top, he has always had the Penske juggernaut as the counterweight.

Chip Ganassi I didn't drive either car. I didn't change any tires. I didn't put any fuel in the cars. I don't do any of that stuff. I have hundreds of people that do that kind of thing.

-- Chip Ganassi

McMurray only came back to Ganassi, where he'd started, after being squeezed out at Roush Fenway last year.

Why did Ganassi take him back? No-brainer, Ganassi said at Daytona, like an NFL coach on a draft choice: "He was the best available driver."

Taking Franchitti back in open-wheel? "He was the best guy available to drive the car, and still is," Ganassi said Sunday.

It's all very simple, a series of no-brainers, to hear Ganassi slough himself off. He doesn't do a thing. Yeah, and Leonard Bernstein never played a violin or a piccolo or French horn with the philharmonics of New York or Vienna.

All he did was orchestrate and conduct.

There was one more place Ganassi could go Sunday evening, by private jet, to hang out and do nothing: the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. He could be a hanger-on in the pits, and go along for the ride with McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya and their crews.

Ganassi, he would tell you, is just a name on their uniforms.

"I think I'm gonna go," he said. "I'm feeling pretty good about racing today."

He got to Charlotte in time to see McMurray check out late in the race, only to be beaten out of the pits by the Penske NASCAR team and Kurt Busch under the final caution.

McMurray and his crew wound up losing to Busch by less than a second.

"My old buddy Penske beat me tonight," Ganassi said.

In defeat, you see, it's all about Chip.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.