Chip Ganassi isn’t going anywhere. His sleek white shirts tucked in his jeans will still be seen at racetracks across America.
The 63-year-old is departing from the Nascar Cup Series after this weekend’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway after selling both of his team’s charters to Trackhouse Racing, owned by Justin Marks and entertainer Pitbull.
Retirement, however, is nowhere in sight for the motor sports mogul, who owns teams in IMSA, the NTT IndyCar Series and Extreme E. Now, Ganassi is reflecting on his decision and his 20-year career in stock car racing, one that has certainly been a roller coaster of a journey.
“My experience has been good for 20 years, and I don’t have a huge — if any — melancholy or difficult time,” Ganassi said. “I look back on the last 20 years as very successful, and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m positive about the whole thing.
“We had a celebration [Tuesday] at the race shop with all of the employees, and I was talking about how there are a lot of successes in sports that don’t show up in the final standings or the wins and loss column. In 20 years, families grow up and people grow as employees, managers and engineers. Being part of that growth for them is very rewarding as a team owner.”
Ganassi announced he is selling his two Cup Series charters in late June after Marks inquired if the veteran owner would be interested. While it wasn’t something Ganassi was necessarily thinking of, he agreed to the transaction.
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“I just think there seems to be a new wave of ownership coming in that brings a different business model and different approach to it,” Ganassi said of his decision. “I see a lot of the spark in Justin’s eyes that I had 20-plus years ago when I first came in the sport. It’s refreshing to see that.”
Ganassi first entered Nascar as a well-known open-wheel team owner — and competitor — in 2001, starting a two-car operation with veteran Sterling Marlin and rookie Jason Leffler. While Marlin immediately competed for a championship — finishing third in the standings — Leffler’s team struggled.
Marlin was on pace to win the 2002 championship for the team, but injured his neck in a crash at Kansas Speedway, missing the final six races. Ganassi put Jamie McMurray in Marlin’s Coors Light No. 40 Dodge, and he won in just his second career start at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The victory — to this day — is one of Ganassi’s top moments that he highlighted throughout his Nascar career.
But Ganassi never won a Nascar Cup Series championship.
“Would I have liked to win one? Absolutely,” he said. “But I’m very proud of our team and what we accomplished. There’s a metric in baseball they use called wins per dollars spent and I think in that category, we won the championship many times. I’m not complaining. I’m very proud of our performance in terms of what we were up against in terms of not having an outside business. Racing teams are my only thing.”
Chip Ganassi Racing circulated from the front of the pack, leading laps to struggling to even compete for top 20s at times. He employed some of the sport’s top prospects in the mid-2000s, such as David Stremme, Casey Mears and Reed Sorenson, but none of them won a Cup Series race.
So Ganassi, as a bold thinker, signed Formula 1 star Juan Pablo Montoya to race in stock cars. That move in of itself changed the path of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
“If I had one regret over the last 20 years, it would be the fact that there were fewer years than I was comfortable with when we had the complete package to be ready to compete,” Ganassi said. “When we had everything right, we could compete at the highest level.
“There were just so many years where we were fighting a loss of sponsorship, the financial downturn, a driver left us or we didn’t have the right team behind them. There were more of those than I was comfortable with. While that was going on, our IndyCar team was banging away wins, so it was challenging to deal with having good and bad days all in the same day. It was a challenge that I accepted.”
Not only did Ganassi hire Montoya to compete in Nascar, but he also convinced IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti to be his teammate in 2007 and 2008.
“They knew the kind of business operation we ran and they knew what I focused on,” Ganassi said. “My management for running teams was always to have a team I would be proud to drive for because I was a driver 30-plus years ago. They knew I would give them everything that I had. I put everything I had into making it a success. A few times, we didn’t have anything to give, and that was unfortunate.”
Ganassi also merged forces with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2009 to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. In 2010, McMurray rejoined the Chevrolet-backed organization after a stint at Roush Fenway Racing.
After moving to Roush Fenway Racing for four years, McMurray, in his first race returning to the team, took his bright red No. 1 car into Victory Lane, the first and only time Ganassi captured a Daytona 500 win. McMurray went on to win the Brickyard 400 and another race at Charlotte Motor Speedway later in the year, with Montoya winning at Watkins Glen International.
The only other time Ganassi’s team, which reverted back to its original name in 2014, won four races in a year was in 2017, when Kyle Larson picked up four triumphs.
“Most people think of sports highlights as big wins,” Ganassi said, reflecting on some of the team’s triumphs. “Certainly, those are highlights, but there are a lot of highlights that I look back on like bringing some things to Nascar that maybe weren’t being employed at the time, whether it be particular ways of doing things or bringing some great sponsors to the sport and fresh names to the sport.
“We brought in some new drivers and I brought in some young drivers that went on to bigger and better things from time to time.”
Overall, Ganassi has won 20 Cup Series races in 20 years, with Larson, Marlin, McMurray, Kurt Busch and Montoya each winning for the team. Entering this weekend’s finale, he will have one more opportunity to go to the Winner’s Circle as a car owner with Busch and Ross Chastain behind the wheel of his Nos. 1 and 42 Chevrolets.
Ganassi worked with Sabates through his retirement in 2019, when the entrepreneur sold the majority of his stake in the team to Rob Kauffman. The team is well-known for having multiple season-long sponsors, including Target
Over the last handful of years, CGR has worked with companies such as Monster Energy, Credit One Bank, McDonald’s, Clover and more.
While the decision to shut the team down was unexpected, Ganassi is at peace. He is ready for the next chapter in his life, and he’s prepared to have an emotional goodbye in Phoenix.
“Obviously, you build a lot of great relationships over time and great friends who I think will transcend from me being in the pit lane with them every Sunday,” Ganassi said. “I’ll miss being with them and the relationships. I’ll miss some of the great racing and it’s still some of the greatest racing in the world. There are some things I won’t miss, but there are some things I’ll think about for sure.”
Before Ganassi hung up the phone, he added some advice not only for Marks, but for future owners of any race team.
“My message is if you’re a giver in the sport instead of a taker, you’ll have a rewarding experience,” Ganassi said. “I’m very proud of the fact I provided a livelihood for hundreds of people. That makes me very proud.
“I’m proud to be able to do that and proud to be a citizen of this country. I was given that opportunity because other people gave me an opportunity. That’s how I got here. The best thing I can do for other people is to give them an opportunity.”