Pruett, Ganassi team, battle past adversity to earn Grand-Am crown

Updated: September 24, 2008, 5:05 PM ET

AP Photo/Ben Margot

Scott Pruett helped bring another title to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

Grand-Am: Pruett and Rojas coast to title for Ganassi team

Scott Pruett's drive for an eighth sports car championship nearly vanished on a pit road last month in New Jersey.

When the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver crashed in a test session into a pit road barrier at New Jersey Motorsports Park, his Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype machine was left in two pieces and the points lead he shared with teammate Memo Rojas was in danger.

With no backup car on site and Pruett on the way to a local hospital, it appeared unlikely that the team would compete in the second-to-last race of the season, allowing 2007 champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty back in the title picture.

But within a couple hours of that incident, the No. 01 team returned to the race and the championship hunt behind its 48-year-old leader, who was cleared from a local hospital and begging his team to go back to work.

His crew responded, rushing to the team's headquarters in Indianapolis for the car it won the Rolex 24 at Daytona with -- on display as a shop car. The car made it to New Jersey in time for the race and Pruett/Rojas finished ninth, more than enough to maintain a healthy enough points lead to coast through last Saturday's Grand Am Rolex Series finale on the 4.486-mile Miller Motorsports Park at Tooele, Utah.

"You can win races with good drivers, but to win championships you need a good team," Ganassi said. "My guys did an amazing job. We had good results, and we had good luck when we needed it."

Pruett became the first driver to win a second Daytona Prototype championship, having previously won in 2004 with Ganassi and co-driver Max Papis. It was his record eighth American sports car championship, with the two Grand-Am titles to go along with previous championships in IMSA GTO (1986, 1988), Trans-Am (1987, 1994, 2003) and IMSA GT Endurance (1986).

"I'll look back at that more at the end of my career," Pruett said. "Right now, it's all about winning the championship and all the guys that have worked so hard. Nobody puts together a better effort than Chip Ganassi."

Saturday's race at Miller Motorsports Park was a walkover in terms of points, with Ganassi's leading pair needing only to drive the minimum required 30 minutes each in the 139-lap event to secure the title. It was a stroll earned not only at New Jersey, but in the season opener at Daytona, the Grand Prix in Miami in March and at Virginia International Raceway in April -- all wins.

"To accomplish what we have is just a testament to everyone involved," Pruett said. "After three straight seasons finishing second in this championship, it's great to be back on top."

The team didn't go out with a huge bang, pushed into a spin late in the race and finishing ninth behind first-place Michael Shank Racing and Bob Stallings' team of Fogarty/Gurney, who landed on the podium in third and 30 points behind the Ganassi team in second place for the title.

As it turned out, the Lexus-Riley that won at Daytona was feted again in Utah for Pruett and Rojas, the first Mexican to win a major international sports car championship. It was a milestone day all the way around, one that seemed distant just three weeks earlier after the crash in testing.

"We worked hard and had our highs and lows this season and I just can't say enough about how great this feels," Pruett said.

The GT championship came down to the final race, with Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R teammates Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards leaving no doubt, winning for the fourth time Saturday.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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World of Outlaws: 50th win for "Wild Child"

Jac Haudenschild has been racing sprint cars for 35 years. He may have to race for another 35 years to win a race with less room to spare than Sunday night at Lebanon Valley (N.Y.) Speedway.

The "Wild Child" beat Jason Meyers in a fantastic two-lap shootout after a late caution, taking the lead on the last turn of the last lap and winning at the line by .014 seconds -- mere inches.

Talk about a cool way to nab your 50th A-feature win, joining a club with only eight other members.

"It is pretty special," said Haudenschild, 50. "We have been out here for a long time and I definitely have a good ride this year. It's good to know that you are getting in a good car each night."

With the runner-up finish, Meyers chopped 21 points of Donny Schatz's lead, now 118 points with a dozen races remaining. Meyers crashed out of Friday's A-main at Eldora Speedway in Ohio in a nasty wreck that knocked Craig Dollansky out for the season with a compound fracture in his right upper arm. Dollansky, third in points at the time with seven wins, will be replaced by Brooke Tatnell for the remainder of the season.

Joey Saldana swept the night at Eldora, setting the fastest qualifying time and winning a heat race, the dash and the A-feature. He's the first person to record a race sweep this year and was the only driver to do it last season.

ARCA: Right turns ahead

For the first time since 2001, ARCA cars will take to a road course. The new New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville will host the stockers on its 2.33-mile Thunderbolt course, and the points leader is an obvious favorite.

Scott Speed, of Eddie Sharp Racing and Red Bull Racing Team, raced the world's best circuits in the sleek roadsters of Formula One, now he'll get a shot at right turns in a stock car.

"I don't expect very much competition, but it will be very good experience to learn about stock cars on a road course," Speed said. "It's just more experience I can take to the [NASCAR Sprint] Cup side."

Drivers tested at NJMP Tuesday in advance of the event. Frank Kimmel, catching fire of late with three wins in four starts, will drive a Ford for Bob Schacht Motorsports. Schacht, a longtime owner and driver, will also drive for the first time since 2000.

Weekend spotlight on: MotoGP

Four races remain on the MotoGP schedule, but the championship battle will be over Sunday if Valentino Rossi finishes fourth or better at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan.

Rossi became the winningest driver in series history when he triumphed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in near tropical storm conditions that turned the 28-lap inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix into a 20-lap white-knuckle affair. "The wind and becoming all dark like in the night, all the beer cans, glass passed in front of the bike in the circuit or the grass … very, very bad," Rossi said.

Now at Motegi he can seal a sixth championship and possibly bag a 70th career win at a track where he hasn't won in four previous starts but would dearly love to for his Japan-based manufacturer, Yamaha.

"It would be a great reward for them for all of the work they have done," Rossi said.