Motorsports powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing withdraws from NASCAR
After 20 years of NASCAR competition and 19 race wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, Chip Ganassi Racing will leave North America’s premier stock car division at the conclusion of the 2021 season. Ganassi’s Charlotte-based NASCAR operation will be sold to up-and-coming motorsports team Trackhouse Racing. The 63-year-old motorsports magnate Ganassi will continue to captain his teams in Indy Car, IMSA road racing, and the Extreme E off-road series out of their Indianapolis campus.
Chip Ganassi, a name synonymous with open-wheel since he began competing in the CART series in 1982, started his legacy of professional motorsports team ownership in 1988 after purchasing a piece of Patrick Racing’s open-wheel team. Two years later he formed his own team, Chip Ganassi Racing. After multiple wins, championships, and two Indy 500 victories, Ganassi expanded into NASCAR, riding the Dodge wave that washed onto Daytona Beach at the beginning of 2001. That second year in NASCAR was magic, with southern boy Sterling Marlin leading the championship points for most of the 2002 season. It came to a screeching halt, though, when Marlin suffered a season-ending injury, eliminating the team from championship contention. Despite the quick success, Ganassi’s team never won a NASCAR Championship. It did, however, win the series’ greatest race; circa 2010, in what is widely considered the pinnacle for Ganassi’s NASCAR teams, Jamie McMurray captured the Daytona 500.
Stock car fanatics, rest easy. This is not some harbinger of NASCAR’s demise. Quite the opposite, really. With the Next-Gen car on the horizon, the sport’s overall health is on the upswing, and while Ganassi will withdraw at the end of this year, multiple teams are land rushing the sport. Trackhouse Racing, a Nashville-based newcomer owned by Justin Marks and pop star Pitbull, and 23XI Racing, owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and current driver Denny Hamlin, both entered the NASCAR Cup Series at the onset of 2021. The rumor mill has Jordan’s team adding another entry in 2022. Kaulig Racing, a force in NASCAR’s lower division has also announced that they will bring two entries to NASCAR’s top tier in 2022. Charters, which guarantee teams a starting position in all of NASCAR’s points-paying races, are rumored to be trading owner’s hands at a 5-10-million-dollar price tag.
“I think this is a great day for NASCAR as it seems like there are so many people that are wanting to get into the sport as owners – Michael Jordan, Pitbull, Denny and plenty of others,” Ganassi told NASCAR. “They are bringing new perspective, vision and insight which is great for the sport. NASCAR has been building momentum over the last few years and I am confident that it will continue to do so.”
If you haven’t habitually read NASCAR headlines in 2021, Ganassi’s buyer, Trackhouse Racing may not be a familiar name. The team was synthesized by 40-year-old retired racer and entrepreneur Justin Marks. Originally a winning road racer in IMSA’s top ranks, Marks switched to stock cars in 2006, earning his only victory in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series in 2016, driving for none other than Chip Ganassi. The duo’s relationship is, perhaps, why the sale was permitted.
“As everyone knows, I care deeply for my employees so selling to someone like Justin, who is part of the CGR family, made the reality of selling much easier,” said Ganassi. “He knows our organization and the people. That gives me comfort.”
Marks is also a savvy businessman, having assumedly learned tactics from his father Michael who served as a board member for GoPro, an executive for Crocs, and an interim CEO for Tesla. In 2020, Justin Marks announced that their new Trackhouse team, would compete full-time in NASCAR’s top series. He brought on former Dale Earnhardt Inc. Vice President Ty Norris to direct the team, formed a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and chose Mexican-born driver Daniel Suarez to pilot its Chevy Camaro. Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull, aka Mr. Worldwide, joined the team as part-owner in the months leading up to the 2021 NASCAR season. So far, they’ve overachieved, having notched several top-10s, and nearly finding victory lane at the Bristol dirt race earlier this year.
The purchase of Ganassi’s NASCAR operation is a profound next-step for the burgeoning team. “This is a landmark moment for Trackhouse Racing,” Marks told NASCAR. “It is humbling to know we have secured our position in NASCAR for the next decade.” The official transfer of assets will happen immediately following NASCAR’s year-end race on November 7, 2021. The future of Ganassi’s current drivers Ross Chastain and Kurt Busch are less certain. Trackhouse has already announced that Suarez will have a seat for 2022, but his teammate is still to be determined, whether it will be Chastain, Busch, or some other driver.
Ganassi’s hell-bent-for-success attitude, experience, and blue-chip sponsors will be missed, no doubt. Fear not, the torch has been passed to a highly capable successor, and there’s no doubt that Marks, Pitbull, and the Trackhouse team may someday eclipse the high bar of Ganassi’s NASCAR success.