- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

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 has 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 Sprint Cup 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. This shows we’re competitive, that our business model is viable and real and the way we operate our teams can work.”

Because NASCAR is the most popular form of auto racing in the United States, so much of Ganassi’s success is measured by the last stock-car race. Less publicized is his sparkling resume in other series: Ganassi-owned teams have won nine championships, two Indianapolis 500s (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 points standings with two races left. 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 will go to Utah this weekend trailing the Gainsco/Bob Stallings team by 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… have [four] shots at the championship. It’s a great position to be in.”

He rattles off the list of people who have made the team’s success possible - among them partner Felix Sabates, longtime IndyCar team manager Mike Hull and sponsor Target, which is celebrating its 20th year with Ganassi. And he also has praise for Teresa Earnhardt, who merged with Ganassi and Sabates in November to strengthen the two slumping organizations.

The alliance formed Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, which fields Chevrolets for Montoya and Martin Truex Jr. It took months to get the new organization running smoothly, and Ganassi has been peppered with questions about stability as General Motors followed Chrysler into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Truex announced he’ll drive for Michael Waltrip Racing next season.

Add in Earnhardt rarely attends NASCAR events, and Ganassi can’t escape rumors of instability.

He shrugged it all off.

“It comes from being in the business for a lot of years and understanding what the real issues are,” he said. “So often times in sports, what appears to be an issue in the press… that’s not what’s really going on. It’s a matter of staying on the plan and working hard. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

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