CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ In the 17 years since Chip Ganassi formed his first race team, his passion for the sport has never wavered _ not during the lean years of open wheel, his struggles after expanding to NASCAR, or even the death of a driver.
Weekends like this last one make it all worth it.
Ganassi drivers won two major races, as Reed Sorenson ended a 61-race winless streak with a Busch Series victory Saturday night in St. Louis and Scott Dixon scored his third consecutive IndyCar Series victory on Sunday at Mid-Ohio.
One week earlier, Dixon won the Indy race while Ganassi's sports car teams went 1-2 in Iowa, as he became the all-time winningest owner in the Grand-Am Series.
Ganassi avoided trumpeting his success on Monday as he headed to a golf tournament in his hometown of Pittsburgh. But the sometimes-cantankerous car owner was certainly in high spirits after Victory Lane celebrations on consecutive days and consecutive weekends.
``My passion for racing is probably greater now than when I first started,'' he said. ``It's just because over time, the wins get to be more rewarding. And we've certainly had wins that have been more meaningful, but to win in two different series on the same weekend is something we won't soon forget.''
Truth is, many predicted Ganassi would have celebrated plenty of double-win weekends since entering NASCAR in 2001.
After all, it took him just six seasons to roll to the top of open-wheel: He formed his first CART team in 1990 and won the first of four consecutive championships in 1996.
Success, as expected, came fast in NASCAR, as Ganassi joined Roger Penske in August 2001 as the only team owners to win a CART race and NASCAR race on the same weekend. That laid the groundwork for a terrific 2002 season that saw Sterling Marlin put Ganassi on top of the NASCAR points standings for 25 consecutive weeks.
But a neck injury forced Marlin out of the car for the final seven races of the season, dashing championship hopes. And there was no carry-over into the next season, as Ganassi drivers failed to win another NASCAR race for more than four years.
That early success may have raised outside expectations, but Ganassi insists he never believed it would be easy.
``In 2002 we were doing good, but we didn't really know why,'' he said. ``We had a good driver and good cars, but we were just sort of throwing things at it and we knew we would continue to do good if we just kept doing whatever it was that we were doing.
``But the truth is we didn't have any knowledge of where we were, or how we stacked up against the other teams.''
As his NASCAR operation experienced growing pains, so did his open-wheel organization. Ganassi made a full-time switch to the Indy Racing League in 2003, and Dixon triumphantly announced the arrival that season by winning the title.
But just 10 days after wrapping up the championship, the organization suffered a tragic setback when new hire Tony Renna was killed in a crash during a test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was Renna's first day on the job, and it made celebrating the IRL title a bit of an afterthought.
It also set the open-wheel organization back for several seasons.
``Nobody, if you have not been through that, losing a driver, you can't understand what it does to your team,'' Ganassi said. ``It takes a long time to dig out of that, for everybody on the team.''
But racing is all Ganassi knows. It's his business and his hobby, and he continued plugging away through several driver changes _ some made in open-wheel out of his own impatience and frustration, others in NASCAR because the drivers grew tired of the growing pains.
Ganassi weathered it all, and lured Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon to his Indy team last season. He followed that by reuniting with Juan Pablo Montoya in NASCAR, of all places. Ganassi and Montoya had won a CART title and Indy 500 together, and Montoya walked away from Formula One to drive for his old boss again.
Many considered it a step back for Montoya, but he's been thrilled with the relationships and the results.
``He believes in you, and he supports you,'' Montoya said. ``He's just a guy that really believes in me, and he'll trust you 100 percent. Chip is a guy if something goes wrong, he still always believes I can get the job done.''
The Montoya signing sparked an upswing of sorts for the entire Ganassi organization.
Montoya put Ganassi back into NASCAR's Victory Lane with a Busch Series win in Mexico City and the first Nextel Cup win in almost five years with a victory in Sonoma, Calif. He was also part of the winning team in January's prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona sports car event.
Dixon is rolling again, and his three victories have trimmed Dario Franchitti's lead in the standings to 24 points with five races remaining.
Scott Pruett, who last week became the all-time winningest driver in Daytona Prototype history with 14 victories, is on top of the Grand-Am standings and heading toward the title.
There's still plenty of work to be done, though, before Ganassi will consider himself on top of the racing world.
``When things are going tough, that's when you have to bear down and stay on your plan,'' he said. ``I try not to get too high and never too low. I'm a pretty optimistic person, and I think if you look hard enough, you can always see good things.
``And right now, things are good.''