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‘One of the greatest car owners ever': NASCAR drivers react to Chip Ganassi’s exit

NASCAR Chip Ganassi exit

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 26: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, and team owner Chip Ganassi talk on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on June 26, 2021 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – The reaction to the impending exit from NASCAR by Chip Ganassi hit home for Kyle Larson, who no longer drives for the team owner but still credits him for his big break.

“I was blown away by it,” said Larson, who tweeted a heartfelt tribute to Ganassi. “But I kind of thought about all the cool memories I’ve had with Chip -- not only at the racetrack but away. All the stuff I’ve learned from him. All the funny dad jokes he has. He’s meant a lot to my career. I wouldn’t be here today without Chip.”

Ganassi announced the sale of his two-car team to Trackhouse Racing after the 2021 season, his 21st in a Cup career that has marked a diverse roster of drivers, including Larson, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti. Ganassi will remain a team owner in the Extreme E, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and NTT IndyCar Series (where he has won 13 of his 18 championships along with four Indy 500s).

Larson was a rising dirt racing star a decade ago when Ganassi took a chance on signing him.

Larson met with virtually every other major team in NASCAR, and all passed because of his lack of sponsorship. He built a strong relationship with Ganassi, who allowed Larson to continue racing sprint cars while in Cup (which many other car owners wouldn’t permit).

Noting that Ganassi also invested in the late Bryan Clauson, Larson said Ganassi’s “level of being able to find talent and take a shot on talented kids when other huge organizations wouldn’t” is perhaps his greatest legacy as a team owner.

“I was always very loyal to him because of the opportunity he took on me when every one of these race teams in this garage and the truck series didn’t give me a shot,” said Larson, who joined Hendrick Motorsports this season after being fired by last year Ganassi during his seventh season with the team because of his suspension by NASCAR for a racial slur. “He was the only guy. So I was extremely loyal to him because of that. I’m just a very loyal person. Same thing goes for Rick (Hendrick) now. I’ll be loyal to him forever. Same as with Chip then.

AUTO: MAR 08 NASCAR Cup Series - FanShield 500

PHOENIX, AZ - March 08, 2020: Team owner Chip Ganassi and his driver Kyle Larson (42) McDonalds Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing chatting on pit lane prior to the start of the race at the NASCAR Cup FanShield 500 on March 08, 2020 at the Phoenix Raceway in Phoenix, AZ. (Photo by Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I’m forever grateful for him, and obviously wish things would have worked out better for me last year and with their race team. But yeah, he’s meant a lot to me, and I’m glad he’s not leaving racing. He’s still going to make a huge impact on motorsports. He’s one of the greatest car owners there’s ever been in motorsports, and I’m just thankful I got to race for him. I just think he likes winning, and that shows, he’s always looked out for talent more than financial backing.”

Kurt Busch, who joined Ganassi’s No. 1 Chevrolet in 2019 and could stay with the new team next year, said he was drawn by Ganassi’s varied racing background.

“He’s a winner everywhere he goes and pushes hard,” Busch said. “I think that’s what his legacy is going to be.

“He has a bigger heart than I expected. He’s just a guy who will call you late at night or early in the morning and give you one of those father or uncle-type speeches. It’s been a good relationship and still will be afterward.”

Though he never drove for Ganassi, Denny Hamlin swapped tales of the team owner with Larson and Steve Lauletta (a former Chip Ganassi Racing president who now has an executive role with Hamlin’s 23XI Racing) while they flew together Friday to Road America.

“A little sad to see Chip go,” Hamlin said. I really loved Chip and what he’s about. We gain and we lose with that deal. Chip is a great guy, fun guy and loves racing. Obviously he’s still going to be racing in some capacity. Definitely will miss him in the NASCAR world.”