In choosing Briscoe, Ganassi shows that experience matters

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In the end, Chip Ganassi played it safe. Time will tell if that pays off for him.

But in signing Ryan Briscoe to take over the fourth seat at his team, Ganassi is betting on veteran leadership to win the day. And when you’re chasing a championship on an annual basis, that quality is very important to have.

It’s not the most buzz-worthy approach. Briscoe has been involved with the series for almost a decade now but one can argue he’s not a household name. Even during his time with Team Penske, one of the other powerhouse teams in North American open-wheel racing, the attention often was on Helio Castroneves and Will Power.

Would a veteran that’s never had a top-tier ride such as Justin Wilson or a young blue-chipper such as Sage Karam have provided a bigger jolt among the fans? Perhaps.

But you don’t win championships by bowing to the whims of the masses. You do it by looking out for your team. And that’s what Ganassi did when he zeroed in and brought on Briscoe.

He was thinking about how Briscoe already knows the Ganassi way of doing things, as the Australian drove for him in 2005 and again at this year’s Indianapolis 500.

He was thinking about how Briscoe is a reliable competitor on the track that rarely makes dumb mistakes and will be good for a consistent string of Top-5s and Top-10s – with the occasional win or two thrown in for good measure.

And he was thinking about how Briscoe fought for championships before with Penske, and how that valuable experience can help his entire outfit.

The Ganassi camp always wants to be in the championship hunt. And when a goal is set that high, one can assume they’re not inclined to getting a rookie or a newcomer acclimated unless he or she is something special (Tony Kanaan, now driving Dario Franchitti’s No. 10 car, is one of those exceptions).

Rebuilding is not an option. The only thing to do is reload.

And while Briscoe has only collected seven wins across both his first run with Ganassi and his five-year tenure with Penske, he gave Ganassi the best chance to keep his operation humming along after the forced retirement of Franchitti following his October crash at Houston.

That made his decision critical in the short term and in that regard, he made the right choice with Briscoe. As for the long haul, Briscoe is still relatively young at 32 years of age and if he can hold his own with teammates Kanaan, series champion Scott Dixon, and rapidly improving Charlie Kimball, he could keep the No. 8 ride for a decent period of time.

Perhaps at that point, Ganassi will take on one of those rising stars that the fans want to see – but by then, that driver will have become seasoned and more mature.

That’s what he looks for. And that’s what he’ll get with Briscoe.

IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama final practice report

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Will Power posted the fastest lap in the third practice session for the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. with a speed of 122.953 mph.

Rookie Robert Wickens (122.552 mph) was second fast, foretelling a continuation of his incredible rookie season.

Scott Dixon (122.237), Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.231) and Alexander Rossi (122.106) rounded out the top five.

The practice was interrupted several times for incidents. 

Ed Jones spun off track in turn five after locking up his brakes with 30 minutes remaining in practice three. He was able to drive back to the pits under his own power.

With 20 minutes still on the clock, Jordan King took a trip into the fence after posting a fastest lap of 121.753 mph. He sustained substantial left side damage to his car and came back to the pits on the hook.

“I’m annoyed really,” King said afterward on the live stream at IndyCar.com. “I slightly locked the inside front, then just stayed off onto the grass and that was it. But I wasn’t really even pushing that hard.”

With two minutes remaining, Charlie Kimball lost power and pulled off the track, bringing an end to the practice session.

Dixon also had an off-road excursion.