Photo courtesy Ford Racing

Column: What do Chip Ganassi and Richard Petty now have in common? You might be surprised

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In a sense, Chip Ganassi became the Richard Petty of team owners on Sunday.

They now have 200 wins each: Petty as a NASCAR driver and Ganassi as a multi-motorsport series team owner that includes triumphs in WEC, IndyCar, NASCAR and No. 200 in IMSA’s crown jewel, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

Here’s another interesting Ganassi-Petty analogy: They both earned No. 200 at the fabled Daytona International Speedway.

Petty’s 200th and last NASCAR Cup win came on July 4, 1984 in the Firecracker 400.

Ganassi earned his No. 200th win as an owner in Sunday’s 56th Rolex 24 Hours.

And here’s another interesting irony: they BOTH hit 200 wins in exactly the same number of years: 24.

Petty won his first race as a driver on Feb. 28, 1960, at the old Southern States Fairgrounds in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ganassi won his first race as a team owner on March 20, 1994, in the CART season opening Australian FAI IndyCar Grand Prix in Surfer’s Paradise (Michael Andretti was the winning driver).

No other driver has ever won 200 races like Petty – and likely never will (unless you count Kyle Busch’s wins across all three NASCAR pro series: NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series).

Now, Ganassi isn’t the winningest team owner like Petty is the winningest driver. Several other team owners have earned more wins across different series in their respective careers, led by Roger Penske (475).

But only Penske, Jack Roush and Ganassi know what it’s like to be successful across several race series that are often diametrically opposite of each other, such as NASCAR vs. IMSA, or FIA World Endurance Championship vs. IndyCar.

Or in Roush’s case, throw in drag racing and Trans Am success early in his career, as well.

And that takes not only good strategy, and gut feelings on how to build winning teams, it also requires good support people – because Penske, Roush, Ganassi would be the first to tell you they haven’t reached the ownership win levels they have by themselves.

“From the preparation to the leadership from Chip, he puts the right people in the right places and that’s really all there is to it,” said Joey Hand, who helped pilot the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi to a runner-up finish to the Rolex-winning No. 67 FCGR team. “After it’s all said and done, all he asks is that we go out there and do our job.”

But there’s one big difference between Petty and Ganassi.

Richard, now 80, will never be able to win another race as a driver, while Ganassi, who turns 60 on May 24, can potentially go another 20 or more years as a multi-series team owner.

Hitting 300 or maybe even 400 wins before he hangs up his ever-present ball cap and stopwatch for the final time is not out of the realm of possibility.

Don’t forget, Penske has 475 wins and he’ll turn 81 on February 20.

Why, for all the celebration we’re doing for Ganassi after Sunday’s 200th win at Rolex, it may be just a couple of weeks or months before he notches win No. 201, 202 or more, starting with:

  • In NASCAR Cup at Daytona (Feb. 18), Atlanta (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Phoenix (March 11) and Fontana (March 18)
  • In IMSA at Sebring (March 17)
  • In IndyCar at St. Petersburg (March 11)

Ganassi has long called Daytona, along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his two favorite and most special race tracks. In particular with Daytona, whether it’s the 2.5-mile superspeedway layout or the 3.56-mile road course, it proved once again Sunday just why it holds such a fond spot in his heart.

“It’s obviously a great win and a great weekend,” Ganassi said. “In terms of the win, it was one of the most nerve-wracking races.

“You know, when you come out of the blocks like that and leading it after about three or four hours or something. After a certain amount of hours go around the clock a little bit, it’s your race to lose.

“It’s one thing not to win a race, it’s another to lose it. It was our race to lose and those are one of the worst races from my point of view, because everything is out of my control.

“My hats off to the team, the drivers, the engineers, the mechanics, the people that build the engines, and the people who built the cars. They’re the ones that deserve to be sitting up here along with the drivers and myself.”

And our hats are off to you, Chip. Congratulations on No. 200. Let’s go for 200 more!

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.