Photo courtesy Chip Ganassi Racing

PNC Bank becomes primary sponsor for Scott Dixon’s car in IndyCar

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Chip Ganassi needed a sponsor for his star IndyCar driver and refused to compromise the value of Scott Dixon simply to slap any company name on the side of the car.

Little did the team owner know he only had to look in his own hometown for a solution.

PNC Bank on Tuesday announced an increased partnership with Ganassi in which the Pittsburgh-based institution will be the primary sponsor for Dixon. The car was unveiled in Indianapolis.

Ganassi still lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh, went to the same high school as PNC Chairman Bill Demchak and opened his first account with the bank as a teenager.

“Chip has a few years on me, I won’t say how many,” Demchak told The Associated Press. “We’ve known each other 30 years or something.”

That relationship led to an initial partnership between PNC and the Ganassi organization that began in 2014. PNC brought corporate clients to IndyCar races.

“Frankly, we were pleasantly surprised at the reaction we got from clients, the business we got from clients, and the potential for sponsorship,” Demchak said. “When (Dixon) came up as open this year, much to my surprise, it was a pretty easy decision to step up and sponsor the car.”

Terms were not released.

Ganassi used patchwork sponsorship on Dixon’s car last year after Target left IndyCar after nearly 30 years with Ganassi. Target also pulled out of NASCAR to concentrate on soccer at the end of last season.

Ganassi didn’t panic, used three different sponsors on Dixon’s No. 9 car last season, and Dixon won one race, the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and finished third in the championship standings.

“We had plenty of opportunities to give it away, and I have to say that I was not overly joyed with that prospect,” Ganassi said. “We maintained some sort of level of competitiveness throughout the transition and here we are now set for 2018 and forward.”

Dixon is a four-time IndyCar Series champion and will finish his career as one of the best racers in American open-wheel history.

Dixon is coming off a class victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which was the 200th win for the Ganassi organization. Dixon is ranked fourth on IndyCar’s all-time win list with 41, one victory behind Michael Andretti. He trails only A.J. Foyt and Mario and Michael Andretti in career victories.

“I was on the phone with the bank one day and they said `It’s interesting that Dixon’s car is open. It’s an interesting opportunity for someone,”‘ Ganassi said. “It took me by surprise to hear that. I’ve never had any sort of partnership or major sponsor based here in Pittsburgh.”

Ganassi doesn’t want the focus of this new sponsorship package to be on a merger of two Pittsburgh-based companies.

“Our brands are a little larger than Pittsburgh,” Ganassi said. “It’s nice to bring these two brands together, and it’s nice we are both from Pittsburgh, but it’s not the meat of the deal.”

The IndyCar season opens in March and PNC Bank plans on having a strong presence throughout the season. Demchak sees the value in activating at IndyCar events and the potential for both PNC and the Ganassi organization.

“We bring businesses and corporate executives to the races, and the emotion, if you target the right clients, the emotional attachment to Indy is really strong,” Demchak said. “It’s a client event that is not typical. It’s not taking them to the Masters, or a golf tournament. It’s something totally different, and it’s powerful. It appeals to our broad-based consumer client across the country, and with Scott in the car, there’s going to be a lot of television coverage showing our name.”

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

 

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.