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Chip Ganassi, enjoying his greatest season, and aiming at adding the Brickyard 400 to the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, with Juan Pablo Montoya

 The only two men to win both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 as team owners, Roger Penske (L) and Chip Ganassi. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Not many men have the opportunity to win both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500. Heck, not many men have the opportunity to win either.
   So for car owner Chip Ganassi to make it to victory lane at both tracks this season is more than just a surprise.
   Well, not a surprise, because he's solid on both tours. But winning two of the biggest sporting events in the country in the same year is something even legendary Roger Penske hasn't done.
   And if Sunday's Brickyard 400 is indeed Juan Pablo Montoya's 'revenge,' as Indy marketers are tagging the race, then Ganassi could accomplish something no one else has ever done: winning three of the biggest races in American in one season.
   Jamie McMurray's victory at Daytona kicked it all off. McMurray drives Daytona as well as anyone, but as chaotic as those final miles were, his win was over-the-top dramatic.
   Then Ganassi followed with Dario Franchitti winning the Indianapolis 500. Ganassi and Roger Penske have dominated the Indy-car world, so a Ganassi victory was not unexpected.
    And, remember, Montoya dominated last summer's Brickyard until he was caught for pit road speeding.
   Montoya has had great, fast cars this season but bad luck. And at the moment he is struggling to make the playoff cut.
   For Ganassi, GrandAm sports car wins come easily, as do Indy-car wins. But in NASCAR, aside from that first brilliant season in which Sterling Marlin came close to winning the Winston Cup championship, Ganassi has generally struggled more than might have been expected.
   Until last summer.
   Suddenly Ganassi's team, with team manager Steve Hmiel, came back to life, in dominant fashion.
   And that has continued.
   However, it's continued with Montoya still, improbably, winless.
   "Obviously, with the wins at Daytona and Indianapolis, we have the big events covered," Ganassi says, adding wryly (as is his style) "It seems to be those damn little events in between....those races in-between that we seem a bit challenged by."
   Nothing wrong with being a home run hitter....
    "Our drivers get up for big events," Ganassi says. "They seem to like those places: Jamie and Juan both like Daytona; Dario and Scott (Dixon) both like Indianapolis; Scott Pruett likes Daytona (the 24 Hours road course)."
   And Montoya likes Indy.
   Tough run here last July....
   But Ganassi insists he was over it pretty quickly, and Montoya too.
   Montoya and Indianapolis have been a strange pair over the years. When he first showed up he was fast and he won. Then he went Formula One, where he was fast too and won too. Now NASCAR....
    But Indianapolis, this very fast, square-cornered track, with two long, long straights, and two short 'chutes,' is a curious creature. Rather, two creatures, one as an Indy-car track, with those cars' high-downforce, and another as a NASCAR track, with these cars' low-downforce.
    Not many men can do it both ways.
    Ganassi, on racing in general: "90 to 95 percent you can pick up pretty quickly....It's that last five percent you'll work on the rest of your life."
    And for him as a car owner, Ganassi says that last five percent is pretty much a people thing: "We've weathered sponsor changes, we've weathered the financial crisis, we've weather all these internal people-changes, within the team.
    "That last little bit entails the proper people.
     "The people are pretty much in place, and it's a matter of letting them jell. With that, you're seeing some performance: we're eighth and ninth in laps-led...but we're nowhere near that in the points. That tells you we have some other things to work on.
    "We're showing we have fast cars; our engines are good. But we're just not making it happen at the end of the race."
   Still, this is one of Ganassi's greatest season all the way around. He's winning and in contention in every series he's involved in.
   And that's quite an accomplishment, not merely for the drivers and crews but for the varied playing fields his men have to play on, different every week.
   "So you have to understand the nuances of an Indianapolis versus a Daytona...versus a Bristol versus a Charlotte... versus a Texas or a Long Beach," Ganassi says. "Each these places have little intricacies that make them different. And you have to understand those.
    "That takes years and years....everything from the pit lanes to the pit entrance, to how the rubber comes in, and how the track comes in, and what affects the track.
    "Things as simple as time of day the race is, the transition from daytime to evening."
    And with all the computer simulation programs being used by rivals, and the brief pre-race practice time allowed at each track, "these days you better roll it out of the truck," Ganassi says.
    "Because if not, you're going to be catching up to the guy who's at the front all the time.
    "You better be prepared to race when you show up on the weekend...or you're going to be still racing while they're going to be handing out the trophies."

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