Every NASCAR off-season is filled with driver, sponsor, manufacture, and crew member moves and the 2018-19 version of “silly season” has been no different. And every year, those who follow the sport attempt to decipher those moves for the purpose of determining which organizations have most improved themselves with their maneuvering.
This off-season there is one organization that almost certainly has lifted itself into an even stronger position as it prepares for the 2019 campaign. With the addition of Kurt Busch to its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team and Ross Chastain to its NASCAR Xfinity Series effort, Chip Ganassi Racing has become a stronger entity almost literally overnight.
It’s not that CGR wasn’t already competitive. But now, the team will have two drivers and teams in its top tier capable of winning on any given weekend.
Kyle Larson will enter his sixth season as a full-time campaigner on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the No. 42 machine. The 26-year-old driver has scored a total of five wins and 81 top-10 results in Ganassi-owned Chevrolets. And more, the Elk Grove, CA star has finished in the top-10 of the final series standings in each of the past three seasons.
Despite his previous success at CGR, Larson failed to win a race in 2018. And there were times in which the young ace appeared to be frustrated with his team, particularly at Talladega Super Speedway where he called their efforts “embarrassing“. But at other times during the season the No. 42 showed that it had the speed to run up front as Larson earned three poles over the course of the campaign and posted a career-best average finish of 12th place.
What Busch can bring to the organization is the feedback that should lead to more consistency. The 2004 Cup Series champion not only adds experience to the team but he brings the ability to run up front on a consistent basis at a variety of race tracks. That feedback should not only benefit the No. 1 car, which Busch will drive, but the No. 42 team as well as information is spread throughout the team shop.
Busch has a history of improving the teams he drives for and looks to do the same for CGR’s No. 1 ride.
He took over the No. 97 Ford for Jack Roush as a 22-year-old in 2001 and within four years he wheeled a car that had not earned many headlines prior to his arrival to a championship. In 2013 he scored 11 top-5 and 16 top-10 results in Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing car that had only scored three top-5s in its entire history before he came on board. And between 2014 and 2018 Busch became the driver of what was essentially a brand new team for Stewart-Haas Racing and led it to a total of six victories and three top-10 finishes in the final standings.
If Busch has helped improve other organizations it would stand to reason that he will do the same for CGR.
Jamie McMurray won races such as the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 for Ganassi but he had not found victory lane since 2013 in the No. 1 car. The Missouri native was only able to manage a 20th place result in the 2018 standings.
It would seem a safe prediction to say that the 40-year-old Las Vegas native will step up the performance of that car in the coming season.
And more than just improving the lot of the Cup Series teams, it looks as if CGR has also taken steps to solidify its Xfinity efforts. In 2018, the No. 42 car in that series had multiple drivers in its seat. And while the car did win with Larson, Chastain, and John Hunter Nemechek behind the wheel, none of those drivers ran the full season in that ride.
In 2019, Chastain will be the sole driver of the No. 42 on the Xfinity Series after earning a win, a pole, and leading 270 laps in only three starts in that car during this past season. That will allow the team to compete for a driver championship.
It’s unlikely anyone would disagree that Chip Ganassi Racing has improved its situation going into the 2019 season. And that applies to the organization as a whole.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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