Monday, May 31, 2010

Even In Defeat, A Historic Day For Ganassi

There was nothing new about seeing cars owned by Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske dueling at the front of the pack on Memorial Day weekend. This time around, however, the venue was a bit of a surprise. As the laps wound down Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Ganassi driver Jamie McMurray tried valiantly to run down Kurt Busch’s dominant Penske Racing Dodge, trying to make his car owner the first man in history to win both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

Just hours before, Dario Franchitti delivered the first leg of the elusive double, avoiding a wild, last-lap crash that left Indianapolis Motor Speedway littered with debris to claim Ganassi’s fourth career Borg Warner trophy. But Sunday night belonged to Busch and Penske, who led 252 of the 400 laps to claim their second victory of the season and deny Ganassi a spot in the record books.

"I thought about that Ganassi car behind me,” said Busch in Victory Lane. “He wasn't getting by us. Roger (Penske), this one is for you."

Ganassi shortened his Victory Lane celebration at Indy to hop a flight to North Carolina, arriving at CMS about halfway through NASCAR's longest day. With Juan Pablo Montoya already out of contention after an early crash, Ganassi went straight to McMurray's war wagon and made himself at home. "The pit box started shaking and I didn't know what was going on," said crewchief Kevin “Bono” Manion afterward. "Chip had arrived."

Ganassi immediately keyed the microphone and remarked, "I heard you've got a pretty good car." McMurray, not realizing that Ganassi was in town, barked something about keeping quiet and allowing him to concentrate on his driving, realizing only later that he had dressed-down the boss. “I didn't know who was trying to talk to me, so I yelled,” smiled McMurray afterward. “They told me under caution that it was Chip who had cued the mic. That was a good moment to have with him, kind of funny."

McMurray did his best to atone for the miscue, chasing down Busch’s Miller Light Dodge and leading until a final caution for Marcos Ambrose’s backstretch crash with just 24 laps to go. Busch had been strongest on short runs throughout the event, with McMurray’s Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet gradually gaining strength as the laps rolled on. McMurray led the leaders down pit road, but returned to the track sixth behind Busch, Matt Kenseth and three cars that elected not to pit. He and Busch surged immediately to the front, but McMurray fell .737 seconds short in the end.

"I think we didn't have a great stop," said McMurray afterward. "It just wasn't perfect. I knew whoever came out (first) on that last pit stop between Kurt and I… would be the race winner."

The race belonged to Busch and Penske, but Ganassi claimed a historic consolation prize, becoming the only man to win the Daytona 500 (McMurray) and Indianapolis 500 in the same season.

Ganassi has won on both circuits in the same day once before, with Sterling Marlin and Bruno Junqueira sweeping at Michigan and Road America on August 19, 2001. He called Sunday’s near-miss, "close, but no cigar," admitting that the Indy/Charlotte sweep “would have been nice. It would have been icing on the cake to win here, too, but it was a great race. Jamie did a great job, but my old buddy Penske beat me tonight.

“It was an awesome day, anyway.”

In Victory Lane, Busch spoke respectfully about both Ganassi and his driver, revealing that he and McMurray planned to spend Memorial Day Monday boating together on Lake Norman. "The two individuals and the two individuals owning the cars have a lot of respect for each other," he said.

And while pleased with a day that left him just three spots out of the 2010 Chase For The Sprint Cup, McMurray could not help thinking of what might have been. "It would have been unbelievable,” he said of a potential Indy/Charlotte twinbill. “We've talked about how we're going to do some photos with the Borg-Warner Trophy and the Daytona 500 Trophy, with Dario and I able to win both in the same year.”

"If we would have been able to win both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 for Chip on the same day, it would have been huge, unbelievable. But I'm really happy with our finish. It's disappointing not to win, but we have had winning cars every week and that's really all you can ask for."

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