‘What else?’ A lot for Chip Ganassi, whose racing teams are off to a strong start in 2023

Chip Ganassi

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It’s the signature Chip Ganassi catchphrase known to those lucky enough to witness another side of a self-described ordinary guy whose teams have done extraordinary things in auto racing.

Though he often comes across as gruff and occasionally standoffish in interviews, Ganassi actually enjoys holding court with small groups of reporters, challenging their assertions and questions with an acerbic Pittsburgh wit honed through decades in garages and paddocks around the world.

The namesake of Chip Ganassi Racing frequently peppers his phone calls and conversations with two words that cut to the chase while inviting further conversation.

“What else?”

During a March 3 sitdown with four reporters inside his IndyCar team’s hospitality trailer — two days before Marcus Ericsson opened the 2023 season with a victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — there was no clearer indication that Ganassi greatly enjoyed his return to jousting with the media (especially after he did no interviews for months during the 2022 season while embroiled in contract litigation with Alex Palou).

“What else?” he asked a half-dozen times in between at least a dozen deadpan quips and razor-sharp jabs:

On the future of his IndyCar driver lineup: “We never look forward and plan. We just throw darts.” And after being pressed about Scott Dixon’s future, “Oh, I’m not going to have him forever? OK. We’re signing Dixon to an 11-year deal.”

On this year’s sellout of the 24 Hours of Le Mans: “How is there no parking on the infield? The whole infield might be as large as Marion County.”

On being interviewed for the new “100 Days to Indy” docuseries: “That’s why I got in the sport. To be on TV.”

On the rebranding of Indy NXT: “Yeah, that was the problem with that series. It was the name! God, why didn’t we think of that? All caps!”

On the U.S. judicial system: “That’s why you never want to go to a jury trial. You’re putting your life in the hands of 12 people that can’t get out of jury duty.”

If it wasn’t clear from his upbeat mood, the state of Chip Ganassi Racing is strong early in the 2023 season.

Aside from winning the IndyCar opener March 5 and top fives in the Extreme E opener last weekend, CGR has prepared Cadillacs that will race in the world’s two biggest sports car series this week at Sebring International Raceway.

The winning organization in the 2022 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will defend its title Saturday with the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series R.

A day earlier in the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, Ganassi will be watching the No. 2 Cadillac Racing V-Series R begin its first season in the World Endurance Championship. Ganassi and Roger Penske are the only team owners supporting full-time entries in the WEC and IMSA this year.

The WEC’s signature event is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, whose June 10-11 field will include both the No. 01 and 02 Cadillacs. That will give Ganassi (and Cadillac Racing) two shots at winning Le Mans again after he captured a GT category victory with Ford in 2016.

TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRINGDetails, schedules, and information for watching Saturday’s race

Just don’t bother asking if the overall victory would mean even more.

“Here’s the thing people don’t understand about it,” Ganassi said. “We don’t race any different because you’re in a different class. We’re racing as hard as we can no matter what class we’re in, It’s just another race. We’re racing. You look at the rules. You try to maximize the rulebook and give it your best effort. We do that every week.”

OK, but doesn’t it feel a little different? The overall prototype win at Le Mans is bigger than GT.

“Because people like you say that it is.”

But isn’t that what the WEC and the ACO say, too?

“It is for some reason,” Ganassi said with a smile. “It didn’t feel any different to win our class in GT with the Ford. It felt as big a win as ever, believe me. And it was! We beat everybody who we were racing against. And that’s what we want to do in the current class we’re in. We want to beat everybody else that’s in the class.”

That hasn’t happened in a while, though, for an American-based sports car teams to take on the best of the European squads. Isn’t that a tall order?

“Yeah, and if I didn’t think I had a good shot, I wouldn’t go,” he said. “We’re up for it.

“What else?”

WAYNE TAYLOR ‘DISAPPOINTED’: But team excited to lead points for Sebring after penalty

During the 1 hour and 4-minute session, Ganassi touched on topics across virtually every major racing series (IMSA, NASCAR and Formula One among them), and he saved one of his thickest riffs to ruminate on the current state of IndyCar.

“Everyone wants to take a snapshot that in 1996, we had three chassis, three engine manufacturers and two tire companies fighting for the championship at the last race” of the CART Champ Car season, Ganassi said. “Was that great? Unquestionably it was great. But times are different today. I remember there were 60 driver-car combinations when I tried to qualify (for the Indy 500) in 1982. There were 60 (expletive) drivers there, OK? I mean, it’s different today.

“But I don’t sit there and say we need to go back. These are the glory days. The days we’re in are the glory days, OK? Can we do a better job? Sure we can do a better job. I’ll come over to your office and show you how you can do a better job. You can come over to mine and tell me how I can do a better job. We can all do that. But that’s not the benchmark for me. The benchmark for me is we are where we are, and we want to go to that next step. Doing a better job marketing, getting the word out that this is a great racing series and some of the greatest racing. It’s real racing. The real thing.

“It’s not NASCAR. It’s not Formula One. I mean, let’s face it: Formula One is about everything but the racing. OK? It’s like the racing is almost an afterthought.”

Some other Ganassi nuggets:

• He confirmed that the team wants to run Takuma Sato in all the oval races but currently has funding only for Texas Motor Speedway and the Indy 500. “We’re trying to get it all together,” Ganassi said. “I don’t have the sponsorship right now.”

The car isn’t in the Leader’s Circle program that brings bonus money, so Ganassi conceded it’s possible it could be sidelined. But he also indicated that Marcus Armstrong could expand his schedule of road and street courses if the rookie (who paced a session of preseason testing at The Thermal Club) continues to show flashes of great promise.

“I want to temper my enthusiasm,” Ganassi said. “He’s not doing all the races. But if he’s not careful, he may find himself in more races.”

• He championed the second year of the team’s Women in Motorsports program that is designed to provide more opportunities at racing careers for women. Angela Ashmore is the engineer for Ericsson’s No. 8 Dallara-Honda that won at St. Pete and in last year’s Indy 500. Danielle Shepherd was the lead Ganassi engineer on the No. 01 Cadillac that won Sebring last year.

“I’ve never been one to want to go and say, ‘Hey let’s go check that box of equity and diversity,’ ” Ganassi said. “I think it’s got to be somewhat authentic as opposed to checking the box. I think this is authentic, No. 1. But more importantly, you have to generate new thought and new approaches and new ideas.

“And hey, we’ve shown whether it was at Indianapolis last year with Angela Ashmore or at Sebring with Danielle. To have these women in key positions. It works. It happens. We’re not just checking the box. I don’t call winning the Indy 500 or the Twelve Hours of Sebring as a chief engineer checking the box.”

• With new team manager Taylor Kiel (who called strategy for Ericsson at St. Pete) joining the team from Arrow McLaren, Ganassi said he and managing director Mike Hull actively have been “looking at ourselves in the mirror saying, ‘Where are we weak? Where do we need to get stronger? What do we need?’ All the time.

“We’re kind of in a mode now that, dare I say, we need to get a little younger. Let’s face it, (Kiel) runs around with a different crowd than Mike Hull and myself. He has a different perspective of the sport. I said to Mike one day, ‘He plows different fields than we do.’ When it comes to the people he knows in the sport, everything is different.”

• There are no hard feelings about the NASCAR departure of Jimmie Johnson, who still could return for the 2024 Indy 500.

“I thought we were OK there for another year,” Ganassi said of keeping Johnson in the No. 48 Honda. “I don’t want to say it caught me off guard. I could have gone another year there with Jimmie and Carvana. We talked about (the 2023 Indy 500) with him a little bit. I think we all said gee, that would be great. Let’s do it, but he’s got a lot going on with his new deal. We’d have to come up with some guys. It wasn’t just a layup to do it.

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to do it. Or I won’t do it in the future. I think Jimmie was fully aware he could do Indy with us this year, but it wasn’t a glove fit. … The takeaway there is he and I are on as good of terms as ever. We’ve never been on bad terms.”

• Though happy for team owner Justin Marks and team president Ty Norris, Ganassi naturally is most proud of the team members at Trackhouse Racing – most of whom were holdovers from his Cup organization that was sold in 2021.

He also recounted what it was like watching Ross Chastain’s “Hail Melon” move (now outlawed) at Martinsville Speedway last year.

“Look, I’ve been to Martinsville more times than I care to think about,” Ganassi said. “At least 40. I saw that, and I literally thought my eyes were deceiving me. What am I looking at here? Because I’m watching it and not paying attention and the race is about over, who’s in, who’s not. I saw it and thought to myself, ‘Did they just go back to some replay and speed it up or something? I was literally confused for a second when I saw that.’ ”

He then devilishly referenced Chastain’s dust-up with Kevin Harvick at Darlington Raceway in 2018.

“I just wonder what Kevin Harvick thinks of Ross now,” Ganassi said with a chuckle. “How we doing now, Harv? Are we OK now? Tell him I asked about that. Tell him I had a smile on my face!”

Despite their contentious squabbling last year, Ganassi said things are good now with Alex Palou, and that the 2021 champion is welcome to stay at Ganassi beyond 2023 (though it’s been reported he has an agreement to join Arrow McLaren next year).

“He knows that,” Ganassi said when asked if Palou could return. “Maybe he already has a deal. I don’t know. Hey, I never flinched one minute on Friday, Saturday, Sunday last year about his car. And I think that showed. I’ve got to hand it to him for all he put himself through to do that. That’s no small feat.”

Just don’t ask Ganassi about “suing” Palou.

“There was never a lawsuit filed,” he said. “I don’t know what you guys keep saying a lawsuit was filed. There was never any lawsuit filed. There were certainly lawsuits written, but I never sued him. There was never a lawsuit filed. We went to arbitration, which is in the contract. You don’t sue somebody to go to arbitration. That was spelled out in the contract.”

Why did Ganassi hold Palou to his option year when many other team owners say they would let a driver walk before the end of a contract if ready to move on?

“How many other owners that don’t want to hold on to their drivers have 14 championships and six Indy 500 wins?” Ganassi retorted. “Talk to me about those owners. OK. When those owners (win 14 championships and six Indy 500s), tell me how they feel. Then we’re talking apples to apples.”

That’s not to say Ganassi holds himself above the masses.

During the interview, he was happiest as he proudly described swimming a mile in an outdoor public pool just around the corner from the posh Vinoy Renaissance hotel in St. Petersburg.

“Where else are you going to swim,” Ganassi said with a shrug. “It’s a great pool, a 50-meter pool. There aren’t many of those around. I made 16 laps in a 50-meter pool. I’m hardly an Olympian.”

Maybe, a team representative suggested, he could have brought Michael Phelps.

“I like winners,” Ganassi said.

Eli Tomac wins Seattle Supercross, ties Cooper Webb in championship points


In the past two weeks, Eli Tomac lost his momentum and with it the Monster Energy Supercross red plate to Cooper Webb, but a gutsy performance in Seattle gave him a sixth win of the season as he and the series heads into an off week tied. Tomac is currently tied in the points with Webb.

With this win, Tomac also ties James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list at 50 with six rounds remaining in 2023.

“I needed that bounce back,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “It was almost like I was in a little bit of a slump in the past couple of weeks; just a little bit off. I’m feeling much better now. That track raced really cool. There were a lot of different lines out there.

“It was obviously very dicey early on. I got passed and then had to make those passes back.”

Tomac suffered with a stiff neck in Indianapolis two weeks ago when he lost the red plate to Webb for the first time in 2023. In that race, he scored his worst finish of the season in eighth. He lost more points in Detroit after finishing a distant third behind Chase Sexton and Webb. This is the fifth time this season that Tomac and Webb finished 1-2 in a race. Tomac has won them all, but Webb has been more consistent.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Seattle

Webb was disappointed to lose the ground to Tomac, but he will enter the Glendale, Arizona race with a red plate and a share of the points’ lead.

“It was overall a great night to get up front and get a second was great,” Webb said after the race. “Those few spots where I would get close to Eli and then make a mistake.

“The track was gnarly. It was no joke. It was cat and mouse as to who could ride the cleanest race and pick the line. I got off to a decent start, but Chase and Eli were ahead of me and I had some catchup to play and got into a good position.”

Early in the race, Sexton was indeed ahead of Webb and the remainder of the field. Another costly mistake sent Sexton to the ground. He battled back to finish fifth but is now 22 points out of the lead and in jeopardy of dropping out of championship contention unless Tomac and Webb have problems.

Rounding out the podium was Justin Barcia, who scored the third-place finish on his birthday

“Awesome ride,” Barcia said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m sure we kept the fans on their feet tonight. The track was gnarly. […] We’re searching; we’re so close to having that speed. We want it so badly. We’ll keep pushing hard and going for that win.”

Sexton’s mistake kept the three top points’ earners of 2023 from sharing the podium for the sixth time in 11 rounds, but the trio finished 1-2-3 in Heat 2 with Webb first, Sexton second and Tomac third.

The 250 West contenders were back in action after giving the last four rounds over to the East riders and Jett Lawrence picked up where he left off in Oakland: In Victory Lane. Lawrence scored his fourth win in five 250 West rounds. Last week his brother Hunter Lawrence tied Jett with 10 wins, but everyone knew it would not take long for Jett to regain the advantage.

Between them, the Lawrence brothers have won all but one race each in their respective divisions.

Lawrence rode a patient race in the Main. He settled in behind Stylez Robertson and concentrated on navigating the ruts mistake-free. He could not afford to be patient any longer when Cameron McAdoo caught up to the leaders. Lawrence found a second gear and gapped the battle for second.

An incident in their main made the battle between Lawrence and McAdoo more dramatic. While racing for second, the pair of riders ran out of room in the rhythm section. Both crashed but had a large enough lead over fourth to maintain their positions.

“It was a very eventful day,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’s Daniel Blair, answering a question about the earlier contact. “[…] It’s good to be back racing. It’s been a while. I feel like I’ve had another offseason. Glad to get out in one piece tonight.”

Lawrence now has a 23-point advantage over the field with four rounds remaining.

Click here for full 250 Main Results

RJ Hampshire finished second in his race and is second in the points after a seesaw affair that produced the final pass for position just before the white flag was displayed.

“I felt like I had a pretty good pace going for a little bit,” Hampshire said. “I closed the gap and then had a couple of big mistakes that almost put me on my head. I backed it off a little bit.

“Cam actually gapped me a little more than I would have wanted. I knew I could get a push there at the end. I thought that was the last lap, which is why my pass was a little more aggressive than it should have been, but I’m stoked to be able to close the gap a little bit.”

McAdoo took the final spot on the podium. This is the fourth time in 2023 these three riders have shared the box and if not for a sixth-place finish in Anaheim 2, he would be mounting a much more formidable challenge for the points’ lead.

“The track was really demanding tonight,” McAdoo said. “It did change a lot and the key thing was to get off the rhythms every time. We were swapping back and forth.”

Enzo Lopes in fourth and Max Vohland rounded out the top five.

Robertson had the early lead but when he lost the top spot to Jett he cross rutted on the next lap, crashed hard and failed to finish.

2023 Race Recaps

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: Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: 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: Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

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