CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Driver defections and sponsor cutbacks have raised never-ending questions about Chip Ganassi's organization during his roller-coaster nine seasons in NASCAR.
Is his team stable? Does he have suitable funding? Why do drivers keep leaving? And, when will the team win races?
It's tiring for Ganassi, who sometimes bristles or offers sharp responses, but always gives an answer.
And he's never panicked.
That steadiness at the top has given his team its first shot at a Sprint Cup title this season. Juan Pablo Montoya, the fiercely loyal Ganassi driver who left Formula One to reunite in NASCAR with his old boss, earned the team its first berth in the Chase for the championship and is considered by many to have a shot at the title.
"I hope Juan's spot in the Chase silences some people," Ganassi said. "I try not to listen to the pundits too much. But our team has taken a lot of shots over the years, and my hope is that this silences some of that. This shows we're competitive, that our business model is viable and real, and the way we operate our teams can work."
Does it ever.
Because NASCAR is the most popular form of auto racing in the U.S., so much of Ganassi's success is measured by the results of the last stock car race. Less publicized is his sparkling resume in other series: Ganassi-owned teams have won nine championships, two Indianapolis 500's (including Montoya's 2000 victory), and three prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona sports car races.
Plus, he's in contention for championships this season in NASCAR, IndyCar and the Grand-Am Series.
-In NASCAR, Montoya kicks off his first appearance in the 12-driver Chase this weekend at New Hampshire. He'll start the 10-race title hunt 40 points out of the lead.
-In IRL, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon are ranked second and third in the championship standings with two races remaining. Headed into this weekend's race at Motegi, Japan, Franchitti trails leader Ryan Briscoe by 25 points and Dixon is 33 out.
-In Grand-Am, the Ganassi team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas is tied for second in the standings also with two races left. They'll go to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah this weekend trailing the Gainsco/Bob Stallings team by just five points.
"That's a nice feather in our cap," Ganassi said. "So many people think we're a two-car NASCAR team, or a two-car Indy team. But the fact is, we operate five cars and all five have a shot at the championship. We have a legitimate shot in all three series. It's a great position to be in."
One that Ganassi values more than ever right now.
A health scare over the summer kept him away from the track for almost two months, and while Ganassi does not publicly discuss his illness, he admits it forced him to take stock in his life and prioritize what's important.
"I've had a whole new appreciation for what all this means over this summer," he said. "I'm so blessed to work with great drivers, great sponsors, great partners, and it truly does take a team in this business. It's hard to get people to buy into the way we operate, and it comes down to being surrounded by great people to make it work."
NASCAR, Scott Dixon, Gainsco
CHARLOTTE, N.C., U.S., New Hampshire IRL Japan Miller Motorsports Park Utah
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