Since Kyle Larson was removed as the driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 there has been speculation as to who might replace the embattled former driver in that Chevrolet. On Monday that speculation was laid to rest as former NASCAR Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth was named as the new driver of that car for the remainder of the 2020 season.
The 48-year-old Wisconsin native was the 2003 champion and has accumulated a total of 39 wins in NASCAR’s top division. Among those wins are two Daytona 500 triumphs along with crown jewel victories in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. His last effort in a Cup Series ride came in 2018 when he drove the No. 6 Ford on a part-time basis for Roush-Fenway Racing.
But it isn’t just the past successes that make Kenseth the right choice to replace Larson, who was released by CGR on April 14th following his use of a racial slur heard on an open channel during a virtual racing event.
Kenseth will most likely only be in the No. 42 for the rest of the 2020 season. A long term deal will almost certainly not come to fruition as a result of this somewhat surprising and unplanned pairing. As a result, CGR will be free to use the time left on the calendar this year to find just the right fit for their organization in the long term. And with a significant number of drivers in the final year of their contracts, the number of choices for a team that has proven it can win races and make the NASCAR Playoffs will be plenty.
Had Ganassi looked to fill the seat with a younger pilot at this time it might have looked to others as if they had made their long term choice. And more, most drivers are locked into their contracts for the remainder of the schedule for this year. Now, every driver at the end of his current deal knows that the No. 42 will be open at season’s end and will continue to keep their options open going forward.
Many believed that Ross Chastain was a possible fit for the vacated ride. Had CGR worked out a deal for him, others might have crossed that car off the list perceiving that the 27-year-old had locked the seat down. And that might have worked out well for Ganassi, but it also might not have.
What if free agents such as Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, or Matt DiBenedetto indicated they might have been interested had they not thought a decision had already been made. Perhaps someone who could bring a major sponsorship deal to the organization might have sought another deal believing that the No. 42 option was no longer there.
Kenseth, with his wealth of experience, will be able to provide invaluable feedback to the team and could very well contend for a win or two. But more importantly for CGR, he will get the team through the remainder of what could be a very hectic and chaotic 2020 season while allowing them to leave all of their options open for the long-term future.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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