A Ward Winning Effort

Team Penske’s debut as a full-time Indy Racing League team last weekend deservedly received the most attention of the new teams, but Chip Ganassi Racing’s first race with Jeff Ward might have been the most impressive.

Ward, an IRL veteran entering his sixth season, finished fourth and led a portion of the 200-lap Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday. The team achieved its success after just a handful of testing laps in the offseason with Ward at California Speedway. On top of that, Ward didn’t know until Feb. 20 if he would be joining the team at Homestead.

In short order, however, the team has established itself as one to beat, just as it has in the CART FedEx Championship Series and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

“The guys have done a great job preparing the car in such a short amount of time,” said Ward, driver of the No. 9 G Force-Chevy. “I've been really impressed with this team so far.”

Ganassi’s team played a big part of Ward’s success, no doubt, but some Ward deserves credit, too.

He had just 48 laps of preseason testing before heading to Homestead, Fla. Ward, last year’s pole winner at Homestead, qualified 10th at 199.393 mph. By Lap 32 he was leading the pack. He stayed in front for 29 laps and at one point led by 1.49 seconds. It was his first time leading since April of last season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The going was tough, however, with a strong wind affecting the handling of the cars and causing several drivers to lose control of their machines.

“It was brutal. I mean, the track was really tough and slippery,” Ward said. “Everybody had to be on their toes. You saw how many mistakes were made out there.”

An inopportune yellow put Ward a lap down, but he fought back on the lead lap only to be passed by Hornish again.

“The middle stint there where I got my lap back as we came under green, I got behind some slower guys that just were right in my line,” Ward said. “I tried going high, but there were some bumps, and with full tanks the car would skate up the track. I went into the gray one time, and that's when Sam had a clear track to come around and get by me.

“But it's a good start for the Chip Ganassi team.”

Although he was out of contention, Ward proved he doesn’t give up. On Lap 183 he turned in the fastest lap of the race at 195.052 mph.

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