As of the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway in November, the NASCAR operation at Chip Ganassi Racing will cease to exist.
On June 30, Trackhouse Racing Team, which joined the sport this season with Daniel Suarez behind the wheel, announced it had purchased the entirety of CGR’s NASCAR assets, effective the end of the 2021 season even though Chip Ganassi “wasn’t planning on selling it,” he said that day.
Ganassi is “by no means getting out of racing,” he said, though he is letting go of the NASCAR side of it.
“I want you to know I’m still dedicated to motorsports and the sport of auto racing,” Ganassi explained during a press conference June 30. “In my opinion, it’s the greatest sport in the world, and it still seems to be on an upward trajectory. We will still be involved; I’m not getting out of racing. I still have three other teams in the NTT IndyCar Series, IMSA, sports cars and Extreme E.”
Interestingly enough, the NASCAR portion of CGR has actually existed since 1989 under the name SABCO Racing, run by Felix Sabates. Fast forward to 2001 when Ganassi purchased a controlling interest in SABCO and the team was renamed Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
It was that 2001 season that Ganassi fielded his first entry in the NASCAR Cup Series. Sterling Marlin, who had previously been with SABCO, remained with the organization while Jason Leffler joined for his rookie Cup season.
Despite being an Xfinity Series standout, Leffler failed to qualify for four races and was replaced for the two road courses by Scott Pruett (Watkins Glen International) and Dorsey Schroeder (Sonoma Raceway). It was also Leffler’s only full-time season in the Cup Series.
Meanwhile, Marlin snagged a pair of victories at Michigan International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway before ending the season third in the standings.
The following season, Marlin ran 29 races before being sidelined for the remainder of the season. Enter Jamie McMurray, who ended up joining the team full time in 2003 and finished out 2002 in Marlin’s place. McMurray remained with CGR through the 2005 season finale and returned to the organization again in 2010.
Come 2009, Theresa Earnhardt, then owner of Dale Earnhardt Inc., loaned some of the team’s assets to CGR, and the team became known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. It remained under that moniker until 2014, when the team reverted back to its original name.
“I wish I could explain it but I can’t explain it,” Ganassi told NBC Sports in 2014. “I don’t have a good answer for you. We had a relationship and I don’t know what happened. We can’t get her on the phone; it’s hard to try to communicate with somebody. She obviously has some other things on her plate, I guess, and that’s her prerogative.
“She was never active in the team. I think she wanted to keep the name out there to some extent, and I don’t know what Richard’s (Childress) relationship is there, but it’s kinda the same thing.
“There’s no ill will, I just don’t have an answer, to tell you the truth. She just wasn’t there anymore.”
In 2016, partial owner of the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing Rob Kauffman purchased a portion of CGR, and despite the rumors at the time, Kauffman did not purchase Sabates’ 20% of the organization.
“Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, has agreed to buy an interest in Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates,” MWR announced. “The companies will continue to operate separately and compete against each other for the remainder of the 2015 season. They are also currently evaluating ways to field the most competitive race teams possible to provide an excellent platform for their partners and employees for the 2016 season and beyond. More details will follow in due course.”
At the end of the 2019 season, Sabates retired from NASCAR ownership at the age of 75, something he’d been planning to do.
In 20 years of NASCAR competition, CGR has fielded Cup cars for drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Larson, David Stremme, Dario Franchitti and most recently Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain, both of whom remain as leading candidates for the second car at Trackhouse next season. It was 2004 when CGR tried its hand at Xfinity racing, an operation that continued through the 2018 season but was sidelined ahead of 2019 when sponsor DC Solar faced legal troubles.
The organization also scored a combined 34 wins, 91 top fives and 151 top 10s in that same timeframe. It has zero championships in its NASCAR history and the best points finish was in 2001 when Marlin ended up third.
“At first it surprised me a little bit, but I have to say that after thinking about it for a while … it reminded me of about 20 years ago when I was talking to Felix Sabates about getting involved in NASCAR. I felt like there was a lot of young, energetic thought being put into what Justin was saying.
“I think, like I said, with all the new blood that seems to be coming into the sport now with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin and maybe (Brad) Keselowski and Tony Stewart has got a team and Jeff Gordon getting back involved and all these sort of things, the sport is ready for some new young blood.
“We always talk about a generation of drivers, and I think you’re going to see a new generation of owners now, and I think it’s a great thing for the sport.”
While it’s the end of one era, it’s also the beginning of a new one that brings youth and excitement for the future of the sport.