Chip Ganassi spent Sunday in an unfamiliar situation. Since he entered NASCAR in 2001, the month of February has meant the Daytona 500 for the Chip Ganassi Racing team. But after selling his stock car outfit during the offseason, the Pennsylvanian had no reason to follow the action from pit lane at Daytona International Speedway.
In fact, with the start of the NTT IndyCar Series season just days away, Ganassi figures the change should help improve the rest of his racing empire. With a four-car IndyCar program, a two-car IMSA factory effort for Cadillac, and the recent addition of a team in Extreme E, the exit from NASCAR gives Ganassi more bandwidth to invest in his three remaining efforts.
“It’s going to make me better in IndyCar racing. It’s gonna make me better in sports car racing, it’s gonna make me better in Extreme E,” he told RACER. “It gives me more time to put into everything else we do. And it just frees up some time for me in the spring, in the fall, where I’m not at these races all the time.”
On the IndyCar side, there isn’t much left to improve after an epic 2021 season where CGR won its second consecutive championship, had new driver Alex Palou take home three wins and the title, saw six-time champion Scott Dixon win a race and claim fourth in the standings, and delighted in the rise of Marcus Ericsson who won his first two IndyCar races on the way to a career best of sixth in the standings.
If anything, CGR will be hard-pressed to repeat the feat of earning first, fourth, and sixth in the championship, but Ganassi says he doesn’t see the need to push his drivers to match or exceed last season’s output. That part’s understood, and with Jimmie Johnson returning for a full-season campaign, there are more opportunities for success to be had with the NASCAR legend adding IndyCar’s ovals to his schedule.
“The nice thing about our team is we have a group of people who are such high performers,” Ganassi said. “And when you have a great group of high performers, I don’t have to set the bar high. They do it. It’s just it’s implied. And they know that. We work hard each and every day, we try to do our best every day, and if you do that, the long term takes care of itself.
“And, you know, Mike Hull, and Mike O’Gara and Mel Harder, these people have put together great teams of people over the years. And like Mike Hull likes to say, they’ve been unselfish about what’s good for the team. And what’s good for the team is winning. So it’s kind of a rolling snowball that just seems to get bigger and stronger. We have challenges like any other business from time to time, but we approach them in the right way. And we move on.”
A rarity emerged amid the team’s big IndyCar results last season as Dixon was dealt a championship loss by a teammate. Before Palou, it last happened in 2011 when Dario Franchitti completed his remarkable three-in-a-row title streak in the No. 10 Honda, and since the Scot retired, Dixon went on to score more titles in 2013, 2015, 2018, and 2020 as the unquestioned team leader.
A single championship win by Palou doesn’t change Dixon’s status as the best of his generation, nor does it mean Palou’s moved ahead of Dixon or any other CGR driver in Ganassi’s view. Each season comes with a reset in that regard, and all of his drivers have an equal opportunity to take the reins.
But it does mean the upcoming season will be fascinating to follow as the young Spaniard and the veteran from New Zealand battle rival teams – and each other – for IndyCar dominance.
“I don’t want to look at it as a game of teammates challenging each other; I look at it as a teammate adding to the solidity of the team,” Ganassi said of Palou’s instant rise. “I just look at it as raising the bar for the whole team. I don’t look at it as one guy challenging Dixon or anybody. I look at it as just raising the bar for everybody.”