Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Wednesday July 12, 2006
As long time readers of this column know, I am not a Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates fan. In fact, I never have been. For one thing, the name is egocentrically too long; that puts me off right from the start. The clincher for me, though, was the way they and Coors threw Sterling Marlin out in the cold last season. You can imagine how hard it must be for me to actually give the Ganassi organization a “thumbs up” for anything…but I must admit that I am impressed by the hiring of F-1 star Juan Pablo Montoya.
I have always felt that something must be fundamentally wrong at CGRwFS, seeing as how drivers with any semblance of talent have seemingly been so keen to leave the team as fast as a lap at Bristol, Casey Mears being the latest. And while Montoya may not set the series on fire right off the bat, I think his learning curve will be short before he finds some success in NASCAR. That’s a good thing for Ganassi, since the upcoming defection of Mears would have left Reed Sorenson as the only remaining driver for CGR with any shred of talent. David Stremme, driving the No. 40 car in place of Marlin, just isn't getting it done. Until the announcement that Montoya was coming, CGR's future was looking very bleak indeed.
As good as it is for Ganassi that Montoya is coming to NASCAR, I must say that I think it was more of a stoke of luck than anything else. Ever since Mears said that he would not be back with Ganassi in 2007, rumors have run rampant that an “open wheel” driver would be making the switch to CGR for the upcoming season. The names that were mentioned were Dan Wheldon, who drives for Ganassi's IRL (Indy Racing League) team, and Marco Andretti, also an IRL driver. Although those rumors were always denied by CGR officials, it did make some sort of sense open wheel stars were being considered, as Ganassi had to come up with someone in a driver thin market. Juan Pablo Montoya was never on anyone's radar, though.
I look at it like this: Montoya, while a very competitive and successful open wheel driver, hasn't exactly set Formula One on fire. In 2003, during a made for TV exhibition, he and Jeff Gordon traded rides for a few laps around the circuit, which, I think, got Juan to thinking. Juan has said that it is the “closeness” of the NASCAR racing that intrigues him, and he would welcome a new challenge. Since F-1 may not be panning out as he had expected, the time was right for the change. But why with Ganassi?
The simple answer is that Juan has worked for Chip before. CGR was in dire need of a driver and Montoya was there to save the day and at the same time, get his foot in the NASCAR door. The one thing, most of all, which tells me it was just luck for Ganassi is the fact that at the prerace press conference, when asked about salary, Chip said that, "Juan told me a number and I said, done!" Chip was desperate and Juan has talent. They both win.
While Montoya has revealed that the contract with CGR is a multi-year deal, time will only tell if that means 2 or more. Two years is how long Montoya was with Chip before. My guess is that unless CGR puts some primo equipment under Juan's butt, he will be driving for someone else within three years. That's just the way it seems to go with Chip Ganassi Racing.
So, enjoy Juan while you got him, Mr. Ganassi, and if you know what's good for you, you'll do your darndest to keep him!
Before I close out the column…a reminder to race fans attending the race in Loudon!
If you are asked to sign a petition by UNITE HERE, urging NASCAR to drop Cintas Corp. as a sponsor until the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit is dropped, BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU ARE SUPPORTING!
UNITE HERE is a labor union (two actually) that is trying to unionize Cintas. That is their one and only goal! Not to “save NASCAR racing as we know it” like they claim. This will be the first race at a non-ISC owned track since Pocono. I expect you will see them there.
I am NOT telling you to sign or not to sign! Just be aware of the facts! Read here for the full scoop.
Stay off the wall,
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