Paulk: Breaking up not so hard for Ganassi
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Yes, breaking up is hard to do. And so it is with Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi and Juan Pablo Montoya. The split was inevitable, considering Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing decided not to offer Montoya a contract extension earlier this Sprint Cup season.
“They had an option earlier in the year, and they didn't take it, so I kind of knew it was going to be something different next year,” Montoya told reporters at Michigan International Speedway on Friday.
Ganassi previously couldn't sever his working relationship with Montoya even though the Colombian won only twice in nearly seven years of piloting the No. 42 Chevrolet.
They had forged an unbreakable bond, it seemed, after Montoya captured the checkered flag at the 2000 Indianapolis 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ganassi will deny the charge, but his loyalty to Montoya came at the risk of stalling whatever progress EGR had made in elevating itself among the stock-car elite. Jamie McMurray put EGR on the map by winning the two most prestigious events — Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 — in 2010.
In the three years since, Ganassi's NASCAR operation has slipped behind the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. There hasn't been a series of ebbs and flows but rather abject failure.
If success starts at the top, then so does failure.
Ganassi should have politely jettisoned Montoya the fifth time he asked — and got — a new crew chief. Or encouraged him to start anew in another garage after Montoya blocked his path to Victory Lane with myriad miscues while running with the lead pack.
Montoya didn't appear heartbroken by the breakup. Instead, there's some semblance of relief of not having to deal with the lofty, if not unrealistic, expectations of being a championship contender in a sport in which only a handful of drivers can compete.
Montoya was never going to be the equal of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson or three-time titleholder Tony Stewart.
He could barely keep up with those jockeying for position in the middle of the pack.
“It was a fun seven years with the Target car and Chip (Ganassi) and everything,” said Montoya, who finished 22nd and 21st in the points standings the past two seasons. “We worked really hard, and we had our ups and our downs, but at the end of the day I want to win races. He wants to win races, and we want to try something different.”
Ganassi is a demanding, no-nonsense owner. He doesn't want excuses, and he doesn't tolerate anything less than maximum effort. He put his foot down as his IndyCar Series program couldn't make it happen earlier this season. Suddenly, Chip Ganassi Racing has won four consecutive races.
Why did Montoya seemingly last longer than he should have?
Simply put, Ganassi is a loyal employer.
At some point, he kept tossing money overboard into a sea of hopelessness with a driver who offered excuses for failure instead of conjuring up a will to win.
Ganassi can be blamed for enabling Montoya. Of course, whoever climbs into the cockpit of the No. 42 will expect the same sort of leniency. But Montoya's successor will not be afforded such treatment, partly because Ganassi and Montoya were friends long before their Sprint Cup split.
If Ganassi is serious — and I believe he is — about building a strong, consistent title contender, he'll need to hire a proven winner, not a friend or yes-man. He might want to consider the talented yet volatile Kurt Busch or Ryan Newman, who like McMurray has won at Daytona and the Brickyard.
I believe Ganassi will seriously consider 21-year-old Kyle Larson. I doubt he'll interview either Busch or Newman. It's not because their asking price will be too high but rather their sometimes-abrasive personalities might clash with a less-demonstrative Ganassi.
Then again, if only winning matters, what's love got to do with it?
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribwebcom or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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