Chip Ganassi walked onto pit road at Phoenix Raceway, where his two NASCAR Cup Series cars and teams stood for a photo before the organization’s final race and smiled.
“This is nice,” Ganassi said as he arrived.
There were smiles and laughs all around. A crew member for the No. 42 team of Ross Chastain took a spray bottle and cloth to a portion of the Chevrolet that needed some polishing.
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) November 7, 2021
Aside from the photo signifying the day’s importance, the mood is very much business as usual for the organization. Ganassi, who said he’s living the dream, has been reveling in the success of his organization’s time in the sport, and that’s left no room for somberness.
“It’s upbeat,” Ganassi told RACER. “It’s been upbeat; it’s success. I’m passing off the team to somebody special, and I think it’s a good thing. Everything is good.”
Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain go to bat one last time for Ganassi. Busch starts fifth in search of his fourth win for the No. 1 team and jump into the top 10 in the final championship standings.
Busch joined Ganassi in 2019 and has taken the organization to the playoffs in each of those seasons. At lunch with Ganassi two weeks ago, Busch was surprised when his legendary team owner pulled out a markerboard that Busch had written on when they met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when agreeing to work together.
“That (board) he gave me on the first day we did our deal,” Ganassi said. “I kept it, and I had it framed, and I signed it and gave it back to him. It was just one of those special things that only two people can understand because we’re the only two people who knew about it. It was nice.”
Chastain starts 16th in a race that wraps up his first and only season driving for Ganassi at the Cup level. It was a long time coming, and Chastain’s name will join the list of many notable drivers who have competed for Ganassi. From upstarts like Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears to champions like Matt Kenseth and Busch and one of Sunday’s championship contenders Kyle Larson. Ganassi also brought Juan Pablo Montoya to NASCAR.
“It’s special,” Ganassi said of Busch and Chastain closing out his organization’s run. “They’re both great guys, great drivers. And we’ve had a lot of great drivers. Every single one of the drivers has a little fingerprint on today, if you will, and every employee we’ve ever had. Everybody has a fingerprint on this, and it’s a great 20 plus years.”
Ganassi first fielded a Cup Series car in 2001, having bought control of the SABCO team (renaming it Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) and won two races with Sterling Marlin. Marlin came the closest in winning in a Cup Series title for Ganassi by finishing third in ’01 and then led the standings for 25 weeks in ’02 but had the vacate the car late in the season because of a fractured vertebra in his neck.
A partnership with Teresa Earnhardt led to a rebranding with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing from 2009-13. During that period, Ganassi won some of the sport’s biggest races, with Jamie McMurray delivering him a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 win in 2010.
To go along with 15 wins in the Cup Series, Ganassi also had success in what is now the Xfinity Series with 20 wins.
“This is a sport about family; it’s about giving,” he said. “But at the end of the rainbow, if you treat this sport right, it treats you right on the way out.”
Many have reached out to Ganassi or posted tributes on social media about his time in the sport or impact on their lives. Whether it’s been drivers who have driven his race cars or those who have worked for him, Ganassi will have a lasting legacy in NASCAR.
“And it’s even a lot of the careers that you don’t read about – developing crew members and engineers and managers and seeing their families and their kids grow up,” said Ganassi. “Seeing them grow in their roles. That’s all very special, and you never read about that in the press. That doesn’t make the wins and losses columns, and it doesn’t make the profits and losses columns, but it sure is a key part of the experience.”
At the end of Sunday’s race, the operation belongs to Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing. And because it’s business as usual, Ganassi has no special plans for how he’ll spend his final day in the garage.
“It’s another race,” he said. “We got to go win it. And if we can’t win it, I hope Larson wins, and I hope Chevrolet wins.”