Commentary

Chip Ganassi puts 2011 in rearview

Updated: January 24, 2012, 9:25 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

McMurray/MontoyaJason E. Miczek/AP PhotoJamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya both failed to crack the top 20 in the 2011 Cup standings.

CONCORD, N.C. -- The dictionary definition of the word "pathetic" is as follows: distressingly inadequate, laughable, pitiful.

Now keep that in mind when you hear what Chip Ganassi had to say Tuesday about his Sprint Cup team's results in 2011.

"I don't need to get philosophical about it," Ganassi said. "We were 21st and 27th in the standings. That's pathetic for a team with our ability and our resources."

So by definition, Ganassi just called Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's effort last season pitiful, laughable and distressingly inadequate.

Driver Jamie McMurray, the man who finished 27th while teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was 21st, admits he was a little stunned at so blunt a description from his boss.

"I would say that word came out unexpectedly," McMurray said. "But 2011 was really bad compared to the way we raced the year before."

[+] EnlargeChip Ganassi
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR)Chip Ganassi made sweeping offseason changes to his Sprint Cup program after a subpar 2011.

McMurray finished 14th in the 2010 standings and won three races, including the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Montoya finished 17th and won at Watkins Glen in 2010. Both drivers were winless last year.

So Ganassi had no intention of going to the team's stop on the annual media tour and falsely expressing a typical rosy view of things.

"You can hide behind comments today or pull the wool over people's eyes,'' Ganassi said. "It's more important to be up-front and matter-of-fact."

EGR co-owner Felix Sabates is on the same page as Ganassi.

"There's not much further we can fall back," Sabates said Tuesday. "With the money we spent we should have done better."

It doesn't seem to make sense for Ganassi, one of the most successful team owners in auto racing. His IndyCar Series team won its fourth consecutive championship last season, with Dario Franchitti earning his third straight title.

Ganassi now has nine Indy-car championships dating back to his years in Champ Car. And his Grand-Am sports car team won its fourth championship last year.

But Ganassi hasn't come close to winning a title in NASCAR.

"Everything Chip has done in racing he's been successful except here," Sabates said. "We've been half-ass successful, but not like the other series. It's time for us to put up or shut up. This is the year that we have to shine and show people we're here."

Last season's results caused Ganassi and Sabates to make a major shakeup in the EGR hierarchy.

Team manager Tony Glover and competition director Steve Hmiel were let go. Ganassi brought in Max Jones, the former president and GM at Richard Petty Motorsports, as the new EGR manager.

"I hated it for Tony," Sabates said. "He had been with me for 20 years. It was sad. I love Tony. That was the hardest change. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go a different direction."

EGR also hired John Probst as the new technical director. Probst was the top engineer for the Red Bull team that shut down after last season.

"It wasn't one person," Sabates said. "It was a combination of 40 people not doing a good job. If you are going to change that, you have to go big, and that's what we did."

I don't need to get philosophical about it. We were 21st and 27th in the standings. That's pathetic for a team with our ability and our resources.

-- Chip Ganassi

Another big move was hiring Chris Heroy, who was a rising star at Hendrick Motorsports. He's the new crew chief for Montoya.

"We've taken a big swing at it," Ganassi said. "We've made some changes as a team and we feel pretty good about them. It's a matter of putting the right people in the right place and letting them do their jobs.

"It was pretty obvious what spurred all the changes. There's no way to go but up, so it shouldn't be that hard."

Ganassi said more than 20 new employees are roaming the halls at EGR. What hasn't changed is the drivers.

Sabates said he is fond of Kurt Busch and helped him get his ride at Phoenix Racing. But EGR had no intention of replacing either of its two drivers.

"We didn't have an opening for Kurt," Sabates said. "Look, the contracts expired last year for Juan and Jamie. We re-upped both of them. We believe in our drivers or we would have made a change. Our cars were not where they should have been."

Both Montoya and McMurray appreciate the fact last year's slide wasn't attributed to them.

"Chip never placed the blame on us, or any one person, for that matter," McMurray said. "We just needed a different way of going about things.

"The new people have made a lot of changes to the cars. I don't know if it's going to show up immediate, but it definitely has me fired up."

Montoya also likes what he sees from the new personnel.

"We have a whole new group of engineers and aero guys," Montoya said. "It's amazing the way things have evolved the last two months. It's like, 'Really? Wow.'

"If you look at it on paper, we're gonna be amazing. But you have to understand when there are so many changes you will have good weeks and bad weeks."

One positive sign for EGR is sponsorship. Both cars are fully funded for 2012.

"Most of these [Cup] teams don't have full sponsorship, but we do," Sabates said. "That shows the trust sponsors have in Chip to do the right things, and we are doing the right things."

It will take time, but Ganassi has built championship teams by hiring the right people who work in the shop Monday through Friday, not just the people who work at the track Friday through Sunday.

In Ganassi's view, it's one big family across all three racing disciplines.

"Everyone wants to separate my team into different buckets," he said. "I look at it as one seven-car team. It's one business. And nobody wants to see the NASCAR team do better than our IndyCar team."

But the fact is, two areas of the business are championship-caliber. The other is, in Ganassi's words, "pathetic."

He's doing all he can so he never has to use that word again.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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