Why getting two in Chase means so much to Chip Ganassi Racing

Chip Ganassi has accomplished many great feats in his career as owner of a myriad of teams in NASCAR, IndyCars and other top-tier racing series.

For instance, he’s fielded race teams that have won a total of 11 open-wheel championships, five Grand Am Road Racing titles, four Indianapolis 500 race victories, six Rolex 24 at Daytona race wins and one Daytona 500 triumph.

But until last Saturday night, Ganassi had never before been able to claim that he put his entire two-car Sprint Cup Series stable in position to claim his first championship in NASCAR.

Denny Hamlin wins wild, wreck-filled RIR race as Chase field set

Perhaps Ganassi himself was overstating it just a bit when he told a television reporter prior to Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 that getting both Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray qualified into the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup would be "the biggest thing ever" for him.

But perhaps not. After McMurray had finished seventh in Saturday’s race to secure the 16th and final seed in the Chase field, the winner of Ganassi’s only Daytona 500 back in 2010 explained why it means so much.

"Well, when you look at Chip’s organization, he’s been so successful in IndyCars, the sports cars," McMurray said. "We’ve won some big races in NASCAR, but the NASCAR side is really hard to keep on top, and it’s that way for everybody.

"When you get down, it’s really hard to climb your way back up. We made some changes earlier in the year as far as personnel. He moved some people around. The crew chiefs, everybody is working really well together, and they’ve been able to build some great cars, and he’s proud of that because when you make those changes, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to show up on the racetrack. But it has."

Larson, who made the Chase as the No. 10 seed based on his recent win at Michigan combined with the number of points he totaled over the first 26 regular-season races, said he’s thrilled to be in NASCAR’s playoffs for the first time.

LATEST FROM NASCAR

The 10-race Chase commences this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, with contenders eliminated after every three races until only the final four are left standing to go for the championship in a winner-takes-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

"You know, the Chase tracks, most of them are good tracks for me," said Larson, who finished second at Richmond for his third consecutive finish of third or better dating back to his win at Michigan. "So starting off in Chicago, that’s one of my favorite tracks to go to. I really think we can go there and have a strong run. 

"The way we’ve been rolling lately, hopefully we can get another top three. This is our third week in a row of top threes. It’s been awesome. So I’m looking forward to it. First time in the Chase. There are a lot of new guys in the Chase, so should be pretty exciting."

McMurray, who made the Chase for the second consecutive season after trying — and failing — to race his way in for 12 years, is counting on it.

Although he’s one of just three winless drivers to qualify for the Chase solely on points this time around, he’s won big races previously and isn’t afraid of being on the big stage. Plus he thinks the Ganassi Racing cars have been getting progressively faster this season.

"I feel better about our chances this year versus last year," said McMurray, who was eliminated in the first round of last year’s playoffs and finished 13th in the final standings. "I felt like last year headed into the Chase we didn’t really have anything in our pocket as far as a little bit better cars.

"We did a Chicago test, (with a) different chassis, some different stuff on our car. And although that was not a huge improvement, it was a bigger improvement than where we’ve been and I feel like right now we have cars that are capable of winning. So I look forward to getting there."

Ganassi said the formula for the improvement that has come about for his two Sprint Cup teams is simple.

“We have been really lucky to have some great people and that is what it’s all about these days,” Ganassi said. “You know everybody has all the stuff. It’s on to your people. It’s pit stops, it’s the guys that work Monday through Friday (at the shop). It’s the guys that bust their ass on the weekends here (at the track).

“It’s the wives of all the guys and the girlfriends and the significant others that put up with everything and get us in this spot. It’s people on a team making the team bigger than themselves. That is when you have success like this. It’s individuals making the team more important than themselves.”

The owner was willing to admit it also is because of one other factor that can’t be overlooked.

“You would be surprised how good drivers help,” Ganassi added.