Don CobleNascar Columnist
Now that Felix Sabates is nothing more than window dressing on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, his race teams might have a better chance to win.
That is not an indictment of Sabates' determination, but a statement of fact. More importantly, Sabates himself is saying it.
''I realized my limitations,'' the popular car owner said a day after he sold 80 percent interest of his SABCO team to IndyCar magnate Chip Ganassi last week. ''I couldn't attract the top caliber of people any more. The guys in the garage know who's a racer and who is not, and they know I am not a racer. Racing left me behind.'' Sabates is a great front man because he's painfully honest, and he has the ability to provoke thought. He's just not a racer.
Sabates, who fielded his first team on the Winston Cup Series 12 years ago, contradicts the notion that money buys victories and championships. Few, if any, have pumped more money into the sport, and all the Cuban-born businessman has to show for his efforts is seven victories.
Ganassi, who's built the past four CART Championship teams, could change all that. The likely selling price of $20 million means Ganassi will come into the Winston Cup Series with serious intentions.
''All I'm looking to do is gain the respect of the competitors and the respect of my employees, and let's try to do the best job possible,'' Ganassi said while also announcing he would turn Sabates' fleet of Chevrolets into Dodge Intrepids by the start of the 2001 season.
The new team is called Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates. Whatever. The point is, a racer now will run Sabates's two-car operation, not a good-intention businessman who could never understand the difference between truth and snake oil.
Sabates decided several months ago he wanted out. Not only weren't his teams not competitive his race teams have combined for only one win in the past five years but he's been too close to several of the sport's fallen heroes.
Rob Moroso, his first Winston Cup Series driver, was killed in a car accident on the way home from a race. Sabates also was a mentor to 1992 series champion Alan Kulwicki and was in charge of organizing and selling his racing assets after Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Kyle Petty has more starts for SABCO than any other driver, and earlier this year Petty's son, 19-year-old Adam Petty, was killed while practicing at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
Six weeks after Adam Petty's death, driver Kenny Irwin died in the same turn at New Hampshire. Irwin had joined SABCO earlier this year.
Ganassi, who also took Juan Montoya to a victory at this year's Indianapolis 500, won't be the first owner with open-wheeled experience to venture into stock-car racing. But unlike the others, few are as committed or as prepared for success as Ganassi.
Not only will Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates have new Dodges next year, but they will have driver Sterling Marlin back as well. Ganassi said he hasn't decided who will take over for Irwin on a full- time basis.
REACH Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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