NASCAR Race Weekend Central

No Bull: A Great Year Disguised as the Worst for 1 of NASCAR’s Best Owners

Chip Ganassi’s three-peat weekend only added to the craziness of the 2010 season for the ubiquitous owner. Saturday, Ganassi’s Grand-Am team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won by fractions of a second at Watkins Glen, and then 24 hours later, Juan Pablo Montoya won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race for his first victory on tour in over three years.

Ganassi was at the Glen for Saturday’s Grand-Am show, but departed to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Sunday’s IndyCar event, where Dario Franchitti took the lead after the final set of pit stops and easily held off Helio Castroneves and Will Power for the win. That gave Ganassi a weekend hat trick, the latest in a long line of historic achievements in what’s been an intriguing year.

Those accomplishments clearly aren’t lost on his talented group of drivers, either. Franchitti said he felt some pressure after he was told that Montoya had made Ganassi two-for-two.

“As far as Chip winning three races, I watched the Grand-Am race and watched the great job that Scott [Pruett] and Memo [Rojas] did,” Franchitti said. “Before I got ready today, I was watching the Cup race. Juan [Montoya] was leading. Coming up to one of the restarts, literally I think I was running third behind Tags (Alex Tagliani) and T.K. (Tony Kanaan), just about to go green, they came on the radio and said, ‘Montoya just won at the Glen, so it’s up to you now.’ I thought, Oh, God, no pressure now.”

“That’s incredible for Chip and the teams to dominate like that. I think it says a lot about the job that Chip does, the people he puts in place, the partners he has. He works so bloody hard at it, it’s nice to see him get this kind of success.”

It was the second Triple Crown of sorts for Ganassi in 2010, as he earlier won American racing’s Triple Crown with Franchitti at the Indianapolis 500 and Jamie McMurray at the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

When looking back upon a season, racing fans generally remember three things: the winner of the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Cup champion. That’s not a steadfast rule by any means, as many fans can easily remember more facts without so much as a second thought.

But very rarely is one driver or owner the answer to all three. Despite Ganassi’s success this season, he won’t be, either; at this point, Montoya’s all but eliminated from Chase contention while McMurray heads to Michigan hanging by a thread. Heck, there’s even a shot that he won’t take home any end-of-season hardware in IndyCar or Grand-Am, either. How crazy is that?

Right now, only Pruett and Rojas lead the standings in any of Ganassi’s three series, as they have a 26-point cushion over Ryan Dalziel and a 30-point lead over Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor with two races to go. Pruett and Rojas should maintain their position, but it’s not entirely out of the question that they could falter.

Franchitti trails IndyCar Series points leader Power by 41 with five races to go. Ganassi’s other driver, Scott Dixon, is third in the standings and currently the leader of the ridiculous IndyCar Oval Championship.

On the Cup side, McMurray is 94 points out of a Chase berth and Montoya is 202 points out of 12th. While it’s not totally inconceivable that McMurray could sneak in, it’s a pretty safe bet that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will be shut out of the Chase despite having as many wins as Roush Fenway and Richard Childress Racing combined.

In 2009, Montoya made the Chase and was a serious contender until trouble at Charlotte knocked him out of the picture. Franchitti won the IndyCar Series title and Dixon finished second. Pruett and Rojas finished second in the Daytona Prototype division, six points out of first.

So what’s better? After winning at the Brickyard, McMurray went so far as to say that winning the 400 and Daytona were more important than making the Chase.

“Everyone wants to make the Chase,” McMurray said. “Getting to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 means more to me this year than making the Chase. This year or in 10 years, the guy that won that race one time everybody will talk about. The guy that finished third in the points, nobody cares. I would really like to be in the Chase, but I have no focus on that at all. I know (crew chief Kevin Manion) doesn’t want to hear that, but I don’t.”

He’s right. When 2020 rolls around, the odds are that 2009 for Chip Ganassi will be an afterthought. Race fans won’t recall the season when Chip’s teams “almost” won all three titles. But they will still be talking about the year he took home two Triple Crowns.

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