ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Chip Ganassi didn’t need to see long-time sponsor Target leave his Verizon IndyCar Series and NASCAR teams after last season to realize that every relationship, no matter how successful, expires eventually.
That date will come for 37-year-old Scott Dixon, who has raced with Ganassi for all of his four Indy car championships and all but one of his 41 wins, which rank him tied for fourth on the all-time list. But even though Ganassi doesn’t expect that eventuality anytime soon, he’s already begun bolstering his team to absorb what would be an impactful moment in his team’s history. Now he just needs Ed Jones to work out as he expects.
“I have an idea in my head. I don’t know if he does,” Ganassi speculated on Dixon’s eventual retirement between Friday’s practices at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “I would think it’s a contract or two away.”
Dixon, entering his 17th season with Chip Ganassi Racing and 18th in the sport, finished third in the 2017 final standings, marking the 10th time he’d finished that well in the last dozen seasons. His four titles tie him for second all time with Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti, who retired with Ganassi at age 41 because of injuries sustained in a crash at Houston in 2013.
The series champion in 2013 and 2015, Dixon failed to win multiple races last year for the first time since 2015. Loathe to discuss his real-time place in Indy car history, he’s not offered any hints he’s considering retirement.
Still, Ganassi began to buttress his team against the inevitable in an offseason when he halved his contingent to two cars, with Dixon the only holdover driver. Charlie Kimball – whose only Indy car win came in 2013 at Mid-Ohio – and Max Chilton each joined the new team formed by Carlin, taking their sponsors with them. Kimball had raced all six of his previous Verizon IndyCar Series seasons with Ganassi. Chilton had spent both of his campaigns with CGR.
Jones, who raced as a rookie for Dale Coyne Racing in 2017, took over the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda when Ganassi opted not to enact an option on veteran Tony Kanaan, 43.
“That would be part of it, certainly,” Ganassi said of replacing Kanaan with the 23-year-old Jones. “I don’t think you bring anybody in with the idea of putting yourself out of business. You bring them in because you want to grow.”
Kanaan, who moved to AJ Foyt Racing, said the split was amicable and mutually agreed upon as necessary for both.
“It’s a combination of people. It’s not just Tony and I,” Ganassi said of the one-win, four-season run with Kanaan. “It’s everyone and everything and we just couldn’t get the right combination. It’s sad because I love the guy. He’s a great guy …. He can drive our sports cars as long as he wants.”
Kanaan said he understood Ganassi’s reasoning for his personnel decisions regarding his tenure.
“Let’s face it, I’m not in the beginning of my career,” said Kanaan, the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner. “I think for (Ganassi), he started to get into a transition where he could get somebody young now that he can build to for when Dixon phases out. If I had one or two years left, he’s going to miss a guy like Ed … that’s understandable. The continuity and the longevity he has, I obviously don’t.”
Of course, Dixon isn’t ready to go away anytime soon and showed it on track Friday in the first official gathering of all series entries sporting the latest-generation cars with the universal aero kit. Driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, Dixon was fourth-fastest for the day with a lap of 1 minute, 1.1004 seconds (106.055 mph) on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit. Jones was 16th of 24 cars at 1:01.5819 (105.226 mph).
Practice continues this morning at 11:10 a.m. ET, followed by Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 2:20 p.m. Both sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Sunday’s race to kick off the 2018 season airs live at 12:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.