Adjusting amid leaner times, Chip Ganassi maintains championship-level excellence


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You may have heard that Chip Ganassi likes winners.

It’s his catchphrase, his slogan for his drivers, and the brand he’s established for his race teams.

In this 30th anniversary season for Chip Ganassi Racing, the boss is celebrating another winner.

Scott Dixon won his sixth IndyCar title to give Ganassi a 20th championship ring as a team owner.

“Big Boom!!!!” Ganassi posted to Twitter after Dixon sealed the title in Sunday’s season finale in downtown St. Petersburg. He closed with his signature ‘#ilikewinners’ at the end of the post.

It’s not been an easy year for Ganassi, who started the season miserably sitting in his Pittsburgh home while IMSA rang the opening bell at the Rolex 24 of Daytona. Ganassi before 2020 shuttered the dominant sports car program that had won seven championships — his manufacturer is taking a break from the series — and Ganassi hated not having cars in the first show of the season.

Then the pandemic hit and racing — his only business — was on hold. It was a contract year for Kyle Larson with Ganassi’s NASCAR team and an expensive bidding war was expected. Then Larson used a racial slur while participating in an online event, and Ganassi had to fire him.

Things didn’t start to pick up until June, when his storied IndyCar program finally got on track. Team owners are permitted in IndyCar’s “bubble” at the track — in NASCAR they are not — and Ganassi at last could get to a race.

Team owner Chip Ganassi congratulates Scott Dixon after his July victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Dixon won the first IndyCar race of the season, then the second, then the third. The fourth race was won by Felix Rosenqvist, giving the Ganassi team four consecutive wins and a strong command of the championship race.

Dixon at one point built a 117-point lead, a cushion he needed when 2019 winner Josef Newgarden made a late charge. Newgarden won Sunday’s season finale, which was basically his only path to keeping his title, but Dixon shadowed him the entire day to finish third with a safe and smooth strategy.

He said he saw concern on Ganassi’s face in the buildup to the race, but Dixon joked the boss had nothing to worry about. Dixon is as steady as they come, and Ganassi ends every meeting encouraging his teams to “do the obvious things right.”

“He always goes into, ‘Visualize yourself getting that checkered flag first. Visualize the pit stops going smoothly,’” Dixon said. “He always has great words of encouragement. Before I got in the car, he just said, ‘Don’t worry, just do what you do.’”

Ganassi is gruff and indisputable; very clear in his wants. Win races and keep your head down are Ganassi’s demands, and follow those instructions or your time with the team will be short. Rosenqvist, a young talent, is reportedly out after two seasons and just one win.

But coming in for 2021 is seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who has joined the Ganassi list of champions that includes Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser.

Johnson will run IndyCar road and street course races for Ganassi in a new No. 48 entry with funding from Carvana, a company brand new to motorsports. Johnson and Dixon have 13 driver titles between them and are regarded as the best of their generation.

Ganassi has been impressed with Johnson’s work ethic and commitment to put together a competitive IndyCar program. He likes hard workers.

He noted Johnson flew from North Carolina to St. Petersburg to spend all day Saturday at the track immersed with the team. Johnson was ready to work upon his 7:30 a.m. arrival.

“He’s on the phone, on the computer, in front of the data, looking at data all the time,” Ganassi said. “It became very apparent very quickly why this guy’s a champion. It’s such a breath of fresh air to have a guy like that come in the door who’s going to push us.”

Chris Owens/IndyCar

Fielding championship teams has gotten harder as sponsorship opportunities have shrunk. Ganassi has not been immune.

He was funded by Target for 27 years in a partnership that was the envy of motorsports. The job became much harder when Target pulled out of racing and sponsorship became a larger factor in driver hirings than Ganassi prefers.

He’s said little about Rosenqvist or the No. 10 entry, but he’s presumably looking for a driver who brings some money to fill the car. On the NASCAR side, he promoted Ross Chastain from the Xfinity Series to drive Larson’s car next year.

The Chastain move was delayed by a devastating financial blow delivered before the 2019 season when the FBI raided sponsor D.C. Solar. The company was heavily invested in Ganassi’s NASCAR arm, and Ganassi had to close the Xfinity team earmarked for Chastain.

Ganassi is operating much leaner than he was from 1996-99 when Vasser, Zanardi and Montoya collected four consecutive championships followed by a Montoya Indianapolis 500 win the next year. He’s still in the game, though, playing the cards he has right now, right here, at this very moment.

And he’s still winning.

Jett Lawrence wins Pro Motocross opener, remains perfect at Fox Raceway; Hunter wins in 250s


PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.

Chase Sexton stalked Jett Lawrence throughout Moto 2, but could not find his way past. – Align Media

No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

He well surpassed expectations.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”

By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.

While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.

Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).

Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.

“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”

With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.

Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.

“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway

In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.

Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.

Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.

“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”

The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.

I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.

The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.

“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”

Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.

Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.

Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.

Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.

“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”

Deegan is closing in on his first 250 win.

Click here for 250 overall results

RJ Hampshire had to overcome a pair of falls in Moto 2 to score the final podium position in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.

“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”

It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.

Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.

Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury
Cooper Webb returns to action at Pala
Caden Braswell joins Troy Lee Design
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Supercross finale