Photo courtesy IMSA

Chip Ganassi downplays 200th win, just wants to keep rolling along

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chip Ganassi likes to tell his drivers there is no such thing as accidents, all are preventable.

Unless, of course, a meteor falls from the sky and destroys a race car. That’s the only true accident, according to the veteran team owner.

His two cars had the GT Le Mans class well covered last weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which should have been a relief for Ganassi. The team of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais was most dominant for over 22 hours, but was caught by strategy and beaten by the sister team of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon.

The two cars combined to lead all but nine of the 783 laps in class completed at Daytona International Speedway. That’s an agonizing feeling for a car owner, Ganassi said, because it would literally take a meteor to snatch certain victory. Nothing short of a catastrophe was going to keep one of his Ford GT’s out of victory lane.

It was nerve-wracking for Ganassi, and perhaps 24 hours of tension muted the post-race party for his 200th win as an organization. He was still reluctant to celebrate Wednesday and said that 200 victories are a testament to team manager Mike Hull and a winning culture that stretches through his organization.

“My hat is off to the team, the job that those guys do,” Ganassi said. “There will be time to reflect on that another time. This is the beginning of the season, it was the beginning of the sports car season. The beginning of the NASCAR season is coming up, then the beginning of the IndyCar season. I think it is my job as the guy who operates the company is to just get everyone launched. Let’s get this thing started, let’s go win some races and go win some championships.”

The 1-2 finish at Daytona was the eighth at the Rolex for Ganassi, who was also the grand marshal for the race. His teams have won six overall Rolex’s and two of three class victories since he dropped from prototype to GTLM in 2016.

Ganassi’s first win came in IndyCar when Michael Andretti won in 1994 at Australia. The 100th win also came in an IndyCar race when Dixon won in 2008 at Nashville. Ganassi has won championships with Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Dixon. He’s won the 500 with Montoya, Franchitti and Dixon.

Ganassi is the only team owner to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Rolex and 12 Hours of Sebring.

It was fitting that the winning team included Dixon, who will end his career as one of the greatest in IndyCar. He has 41 career victories with Ganassi, and at 16 years with the team owner is the longest-tenured driver in organization history.

Dixon and Ganassi both joke that Dixon’s job security is because he never calls his boss and never complains. The reality is that driver and car owner both want the same thing and take a straightforward approach to accomplishing goals.

“Everybody thrives in the winning culture that this team has, and they’ve definitely proven it in many ways with Chip, obviously across many different disciplines in auto racing,” Dixon said.

Last week, Roger Penske’s return to sports cars was celebrated and The Captain earned the spotlight for the precision of his operation (and the fact he stayed awake the entire 24 hours). But it was Ganassi’s team that put on a clinic.

The two owners are rivals in IndyCar, NASCAR and now sports cars. Dixon was aware the Penske presence could be rattling to competitors. The Ganassi guys didn’t look twice. They knew they had the equipment and effort to get the job done.

“Everybody just wants to win,” Dixon said. “That’s the most simple thing: We come here each weekend to win. There’s no thinking about finishing (the race) or finishing second.”

Next up is a return trip to Daytona for the start of NASCAR’s season. A month after that, IndyCar begins and Ganassi’s calendar will be filled with racing.

“I don’t want to sound too ambitious here, but I will tell you that I think the team is certainly poised to do well across all sectors,” Ganassi said.

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

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.