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 shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.