When Reed Sorenson started his first full Cup season in 2006, he was his organization’s youngest driver and had the least NASCAR experience.
Two years later, Sorenson, 21, is still the youngest driver for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, but he suddenly finds himself with the most NASCAR experience.
In the past two seasons, he has seen veteran Cup drivers such as Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears depart Ganassi to be replaced with a pair of Indianapolis 500 winners, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti.
Montoya, who has an extensive open-wheel resume including a stint in Formula One, won his first Cup series race last season, his first full season in NASCAR. Franchitti, who won the IndyCar Series championship last year, was hired at the end of the season.
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Sorenson’s age and Montoya and Franchitti’s lack of NASCAR experience will make the Ganassi program one of the most diverse – and unpredictable – this season.
Although Sorenson’s tenure with Ganassi might be the longest of the three, he might have the most difficulty establishing an identity.
“Reed is very cocky, but he is also very shy, and it’s very hard to explain that combination,” said team part-owner Felix Sabates. “In the car as a driver, he is cocky, but in the public, in the media, he comes across very shy.
“Sometimes I just want go to him and say, ‘Reed, do something!’ I mean go find Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wreck him. That will get you attention.”
Intentionally wrecking the sport’s most popular driver would draw attention and immediately distinguish Sorenson from his rivals, but the long-term effects would be impractical.
For his part, Sorenson believes the best way to separate himself from his two far more famous teammates is getting his No. 41 Dodge in Victory Lane, which he has yet to do in the Cup Series.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to finish races. Juan did pretty good last year, and with the stats Dario has coming into NASCAR, he’s going to get attention from that,” Sorenson said.
“We’d like to get our attention from our results.”
Although he is turning only 22 on Tuesday, Sorenson has seen a wealth of changes since he’s entered the Cup Series, including new teammates and the use of a new car, NASCAR’s much-publicized car of tomorrow.
“I feel a lot better going into this season as far working with Juan to take this team where we need it to be,” he said. “I don’t think it’s intimidating to be surrounded by two Indy 500 winners. I think it’s pretty cool.”
Sorenson’s crew chief, Jimmy Elledge, believes the addition of Montoya, and now Franchitti, has expanded Sorenson’s respect for other forms of racing.
“The biggest thing, it takes time to blend a group of drivers together. The change itself is the biggest shock, more so than where they are from or what they have done,” Elledge said.
“When you have people who are extremely competitive, it’s not going to be a marriage made in heaven from day one. The development of mutual respect is extremely important.”
So is winning.
Sorenson had three wins in the Busch Series, now called the Nationwide Series, including one last season. But he lacks a Cup win and hasn’t finished better than 22nd in points.
“This is an important season for the entire organization. For us, we need to take the next step of moving from a team that finishes 20th in points to one that is earning a spot in the Chase,” he said. “If we do that, we’ll create our own headlines.”