Saturday, May 5, 2001
Vasser: "Pretty sure it's going to happen"
By Robin Miller ESPN.com
NAZARETH, PA. Chip Ganassi has finalized his lineup for the 85th Indianapolis 500 and, as first reported on RPM2Night and ESPN.com, it's going to be a potent mix of a former Indy Racing League star and a former employee.
Ganassi's defending Indy champions, which dominated last May with Juan Montoya, will announce Tony Stewart and Jimmy Vasser will join his stable at Indianapolis in a Monday morning press conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jimmy Vasser, left, is set to rejoin Chip Ganassi, right, at this year's Indianapolis 500. Juan Montoya, center, won the event last year for Ganassi Racing.
Bruno Junqueira, who won the pole position for Sunday's CART race here at Nazareth in his oval-track debut, and his rookie teammate, Nicolas Minassian, will be spectators despite the fact they easily passed their rookie tests last month.
Stewart, the IRL's poster boy from 1996-98 who is now one of NASCAR's regular front runners, will pilot one of Ganassi's Target G-Force/Auroras in making his first appearance (as a driver) at Indy since '98.
The '97 IRL champion visited Ganassi's shop in Indianapolis last week to be fitted for a seat.
After winning in Richmond on Saturday night, Stewart was scuffing his tires and
doing donuts when crew chief Greg Zipadelli told him on the radio: "Hey, take it easy. I've got to rebuild that race car."
Stewart replied: "I'll be at the Indy 500."
Vasser, who captured the 1996 CART championship for Ganassi before being let go this season and bought out of his contract a year early, walked out of Nazareth Speedway Saturday night under the assumption a deal had been finalized between his current owner, Pat Patrick, and Ganassi.
He's scheduled to fly to Indianapolis on Sunday night in Ganassi's private jet following CART's third race of 2001.
"I'm pretty sure it's going to happen," said Vasser, who was second last year at Indy until a late pit stop dropped him to seventh. "It's going to be kind of strange, or maybe a little ironic, going back and running for the guy who fired me but it's a great opportunity.
"I just want to make sure it's cool with Pat (Patrick) and Jim (McGee, team manager)."
Patrick met with Ganassi Saturday to finalize the agreement.
"The ball is in Chip's court," said Patrick, who is running Vasser in CART despite not having a sponsor, early Saturday morning. "It's a good deal for Jimmy and I'm happy for him but it's got to make sense for my team."
Asked if Patrick's asking price was somewhere between $100,000 and $1,000,000, Ganassi smiled and said: "That's a fact but that's all I'm saying.
"I think we're pretty close with Jimmy, but you'll know Monday morning."
Until this weekend, Junqueira and Minassian maintained they would be defending Ganassi's title at the Speedway.
"It's not up to me, it's not my problem," replied Junqueira on Friday when asked about the rumors he'd be replaced.
Minassian was more diplomatic. "I will do whatever Chip wants me to."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.