2011 Team Preview: Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates will field cars for Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. (Photo: Getty Images)

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One year ago, there were more questions than answers at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. 

Although Juan Pablo Montoya made The Chase for The Sprint Cup in 2009, his transition to NASCAR was far from complete.

And there were those who openly questioned Chip Ganassi’s wisdom in hiring Jamie McMurray to return to the team after several less-than-successful seasons at Roush Fenway Racing.

The answers started coming in Victory Lane at Daytona. More came at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen. Still more answers came at Charlotte in the fall.

Even though 2010 saw some questions answered, one major question remains for the two-car team heading into 2011.

Is Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing ready to take the next step and become a consistent championship contender? Team owner Chip Ganassi isn’t sure.

Ganassi: "We’re not where we want to be, but we think we have the right attitude and the right outlook going forward." (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)“We’re not there as a team yet. We’re not where we want to be, but we think we have the right attitude and the right outlook going forward,” Ganassi says. ”I think we’re a bunch of guys who never quite want to believe they’re there. If you believe you’re there, you’re going to get smacked over the head with something you didn’t think of. We’re all still students of this formula and we want to do whatever it takes to win and we’re constantly looking for that little bit we’re missing.”

Even though his NASCAR team won major races in 2010, his IZOD IndyCar and GRAND-AM Rolex Series teams won championships. But, that elusive NASCAR title leaves Ganassi with a lingering hunger.

“You have those standout events you want to win,” Ganassi said. “I think you also want to win championships. When you look back through the years, the championships are rewarding and individual race wins are very important on a year-by-year basis.”

Widia will sponsor Jamie McMurray at Martinsville for his 300th career start. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)Jamie McMurray returns to the seat of the Bass Pro Shops/McDonalds Chevrolet with a new contract, and is ready to move forward, building on last year’s success. 

“I feel like we can improve on what we had last year,” McMurray believes. “The cars seem to have really good speed in them, and ultimately, speed is the hardest thing to find. If you get that, I don’t think the consistency will be tough.”

Speed doesn’t seem to be a problem for McMurray, who says that there’s every difference in the world between EGR and his former home at Roush.

“(EGR) builds my cars around me, and they build Juan’s around what he likes,” McMurray said. “When you get to the track, you don’t have to do what the other guys are doing. At Roush, there were a few of those guys that could make the same type of setup work, and there were some that couldn’t. You just weren’t supposed to get out of this box they gave you. But for me, I needed to be out of that box. I couldn’t make what they had work. Here, they’ve built the setup in my cars around my driving style, and that equaled a really good performance.”

So, does McMurray believe he can start the 2011 Sprint Cup campaign the way he started 2010 by becoming only the fourth driver to win the Daytona 500 in consecutive years?

“The one thing I feel like we have going for us is that I crashed in the last two (restrictor) plate races,” McMurray remembers. “It’s usually a percentage game there when it comes to how many you finish and how many you don’t. I hope we got the crashing out of the way at Daytona and Talladega last year and we can make it through the 500. It’s going to be such a different race than what we’ve had in the past.”

Target will sponsor Montoya again this season. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)Montoya is ready for his fifth season at the wheel of the Target Chevrolet. Although he won a race last year, he failed to make the Chase field. This year, his team is looking for more consistency. But Montoya thinks the road to consistent top finishes could be easier said than done.

“We made the chase in 2009,” Montoya said. “We won a race in 2010. I think everything has always been headed in the right direction, but when you have a chance to win a race, it’s not only you, but it’s four or five other guys with a chance to win the race and it can come down to a call.”

When it comes to making those calls, Montoya will rely on a familiar voice...Crew Chief Brian Pattie.

“I think our relationship has grown over the years,” Montoya said. “We understand each other really well, we’re on the same page, and we know what it takes to get the job done.”

Tune in tomorrow when MotorRacingNetwork.com previews Penske Racing.

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