Team Preview: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin on February 8, 2013 | 10:17 A.M. EST
Jamie McMurray (No. 1) and Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42) are both looking for a better season in 2013. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
MotorRacingNetwork.com counts down to the start of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and the running of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, with a series of team previews. Next up is a look at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is looking to use a new year with a new car to bounce back from two straight winless seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
After owner Chip Ganassi called the 2011 season "pathetic," the team failed to once again break into the top 20 in the final standings in 2012 with drivers Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s not the first time Ganassi saw struggles within his organization, which also fields teams in the IZOD IndyCar and GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.
The team’s IndyCar program had its share of dismal seasons before ultimately going on to win four of the last five championships.
"We struggled huge with the Indy car team in 2004 and 2005, and those struggles made us better," Ganassi said. "A part of their success today is because of the struggles they went through in 2004 and 2005. I think the same holds true for the NASCAR team.
"The important thing is to have the courage to stay in it, stay on path. Anybody that's competed in NASCAR knows it’s humbling on all levels, not just from an ownership level ... drivers, crew members. This sport can really make you take a look at yourself when you think you’re successful in one area, then come over here and it’s a challenge. There are lots of variables, a lot of moving parts, but the most competitive games attract the most competitive people."
Overall, Ganassi has combined to win 15 series titles in IndyCar and GRAND-AM, and wants nothing more than to see McMurray or Montoya hoisting the Sprint Cup Series trophy at the end of the season.
"There’s obviously something missing from that list: a NASCAR championship," Ganassi says. "I'm hard at it to add that to our list of accomplishments. And while we - again - had a tough season in 2012, our expectations are to run at the front and be at the front, and we're continually making changes. We had a lot of new people throughout the organization. We were installing a lot of new processes and equipment during 2012 and quite honestly, it didn’t happen as fast for me as I would have liked.
"Juan, Jamie and the teams worked hard all season long and it was one of those years when nothing seemed to work. I can tell you it wasn’t due to lack of effort."
Ganassi will keep the crew chief combinations of Kevin Manion and Chris Heroy intact for McMurray and Montoya, respectively. The two teams struggled with last year’s car and are now looking for a fresh start with the Gen-6 Chevrolet after trying a number of things during the final half of last season.
"We missed it last year, with the car being skewed out and manipulating the rules after what everyone else was doing with truck arms and rear sway bars," McMurray said. "That got us in a small panic mode, taking big swings at the car. We didn’t finish where we wanted to, but we learned a lot towards the end of last year."
Montoya, who only scored two top 10s last year, is pleased with the results of pre-season testing.
"Last year, we were hoping for a lot better things," Montoya said. "We hired a ton of really smart people and I think it took longer to get everybody together. We were a lot further behind than we thought. We've been testing everywhere and the car seems to have a little more speed."
This year, EGR will utilize Hendrick engines after using Earnhardt Childress Racing powerplants for the past four seasons.
"The engine program was not our biggest weakness last year," said McMurray - who won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 (Indianapolis) and Bank of America 500 (Charlotte) with ECR engines in 2010. "From the testing we've done with Hendrick, they seem to really have their act together. When we tested at Charlotte, there was a Hendrick guy in our garage pretty much the whole day. In addition to the regular engine tuner we have, anyway, there was someone else over there wanting to help and asking our opinions."
McDonald’s will return as the primary sponsor of McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet for 15 races along with the addition of Cessna, which the team unveiled during last month’s media tour, for 10 races. Bass Pro Shops, who shifted a majority of its sponsorship to Stewart-Hass Racing, will remain on the car for two races. Montoya’s No. 42 Chevrolet will once again be backed by long-time Ganassi sponsor Target.
"If you look at this organization, it's the best at not only keeping sponsors but taking care of them better than anyone else," McMurray said. "When you look at the people Chip has been able to bring in across the board, I think it’s cool that if you sponsor the Cup car, you get to be part of an Indy car or a Daytona Prototype."
Along with its Cup program, EGR development driver Kyle Larson will run a full-time Nationwide Series season with Turner Scott Motorsports.
"We've been working with Kyle for a couple years, now," Ganassi said. "He came on our radar screen through some people that work for us. Seems like a great young man with plenty of raw talent. It's just a matter of finding the right situations for him along the way.
"It's going to be a continual effort for the next few years and hopefully, we can bring his career into NASCAR in a way that he and everyone else will be most proud of."
Overall, EGR has an air of confidence that differs from what seemed to permeate the organization in recent time. Team manager Max Jones, who joined the team in the 2011-2012 off-season, attributes a great deal of that change in attitude to consistency among EGR's staff and personnel.
“A year ago I had only been there for three weeks," Jones said. "I have been there just a little over a year and when you come into a new organization and you start to learn the people and there was a lot of new people brought in it took a little while to understand and get all those things going. There were some new tools that were brought in and new processes we put in place. So it took a while behind the scenes to get that all going. I feel like we just started to get those things working well.
"It hasn’t materialized on the race track yet, but I fell like our pre-season testing some of those things were really working. I feel like we are much farther ahead there. I fell like the organization in the shop, there was a lot of people we moved around in different spots to better utilize their skill sets. I feel like the organization as a whole is running a lot smoother.”
Photos: Jeff Wackerlin