Now That Newman’s Back With RFR Again, Ganassi Has A Decision To Replace Larson In No. 42 Chevrolet

INDIANAPOLIS — All signs are pointing to despite the world being in the middle of a pandemic, that NASCAR will return to racing next month. In fact, with the way that things are trending, the NASCAR Cup Series could resume their season as soon as three weeks from now.

By virtue of that, Ryan Newman announced on Sunday that if he can get the clearance from NASCAR, which if he’s as healthy as he says, than he will return to his No. 6 Ford for the first time since that frightening final lap crash in February’s Daytona 500.

Newman, missed the three west coast races following Daytona as a result of that crash. Luckily for him, the coronavirus break in action has allowed him to now only miss three races. That has kept him 29th in the points standings and if he can win a race before the postseason begins as well as remain in the top 30 of the points, then he can be a part of the 10 race playoffs this fall.

Ross Chastain filled in for Newman in the three races at Las Vegas, Fontana and Phoenix. The Florida native finished 27th (Vegas), 17th (Fontana) and 23rd (Phoenix) respectively. He’s now back to his full time gig with Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series and Niece Motorsports in Trucks for the time being — or is he?

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Ross Chastain celebrates after winning last year’s NXS race at the Daytona International Speedway in July

Chip Ganassi Racing has a seat to fill on the Cup level now too. Earlier this month, Kyle Larson made a racial slur during a video game race on Easter night which in the days following led him to getting fired from CGR as well as losing most of his sponsors too.

So, the No. 42 Chevrolet is open now and needs to be filled in the next couple of weeks. Chastian, would be the obvious favorite to land that seat too.

I mean, why not? Chastain, has had a very interesting route to the Cup Series, and could this be the pinnacle of an odd path that finally lead him to a premiere ride in NASCAR’s top level — this being with his own seat and not as a “fill in” or “interim replacement?”

Chastain, 27, is the same age as Larson, just five months younger in fact. He had a different path than Larson to NASCAR. Even on the NASCAR level though, he wasn’t handed a Cup path like Larson was. Larson was fast tracked from dirt to Cup. Chastain, hasn’t. The Alva, Florida native drove for underfunded teams while biding his time. He knew he had talent, he just hoped someone bigger would notice sooner, rather than later. The only problem was, that way of thinking wasn’t working. So, in 2018, Chastain took a chance on himself. Instead of returning full time to JD Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series level, he took some of his money towards a three-race deal with Ganassi instead.

Time to bet on himself and show the NASCAR world what he’s got. It was his first and likely only opportunity to showcase his talents.

It was a lot of pressure for the then 25 year old. If you can’t win or at least contend to win on the NXS level in a Ganassi car, then you won’t be able to so on any level. Well, it paid off.

Chastain, dominated in his first race with them at Darlington. He led the most-laps that day and was heading towards a victory before a late race run in with Kevin Harvick which took him out of contention. The next start for him came at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and in that race, the calculated risk paid off big — he won. The third and final race for Ganassi that season came a week later in Richmond. He finished second.

Enough was seen and Ganassi knew he lucked into someone special. That finally netted Chastain an opportunity with Ganassi for the 2019 NXS campaign as a full time driver. Ganassi, likes winners after all and Chastain not only had won in 33-percent of his starts with him, he was available to sign a deal.

Unfortunately though, remember that I said that Chastain has had a lot of twists and turns through his NASCAR journey. This path would be too easy right? Not for Chastain. That offseason, the sponsor (DC Solar) had major legal troubles and was obviously gone at Ganassi shortly thereafter. That left Chastain high and dry again without a ride. Ganassi, well he thought so highly of Chastain that he honored his contract even though he didn’t have a seat for him for 2019. So, that took Chastain back to JDM and then to Kaulig Racing to piece together a season. Then, he landed a full time opportunity with Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series.

Heading into 2019, Chastain was going to race for Premium Motorsports in Cup, JD Motorsports and Kaulig in Xfinity and Niece Motorsports in Trucks. Their combined win totals as organizations?

0.

Maybe he didn’t see it then, but that DC Solar fiasco may have actually been a blessing in disguise for Chastain now. Chastain, won with Kaulig at Daytona, won multiple times for a team like Niece and even took them to the Championship 4 on the Truck level. The Watermelon man proved that he can win now even in underfunded equipment and just needed that confidence that someone trusts his abilities. It would net him a higher pay day in the end actually.

Ganassi, extended his contract with Chastain for the 2020 season again, even without a full time ride to give him still. They loaned him for a full time seat in NXS with Kaulig and allowed him to race in the Daytona 500 in a joint effort with Spire Motorsports. That was the 2020 plan. Again, this story is about twists and turns. This is where his route takes another weird twist, the Ryan Newman’s crash. Remember, Chastain filled in for Newman. Ganassi and Chevrolet obliged to let him fill in during the three west coast races and as long as RFR needed. Another big break for Chastain. A Cup seat with a time like Roush Fenway.

But, as we hit the COVID-19 hiatus which was enough time for Newman to heal and come back whenever we get to come out of our bunkers, it left Chastain back out of a Cup ride.

The ride in the 42 is open still and Chastain, well he’s the obvious replacement now right? A weird path with a roller coaster of peaks and valleys and the twists and turns of tilt a whirl could not have made him a full time Cup driver.

It makes too much sense.

But, so does this — Ganassi should pursue Bubba Wallace too. Say what you may be thinking? This guy (Chastain) has done so much and finally has an opportunity and now you want the ride to go to someone else?

Think about it, Ganassi calls up former driver Jamie McMurray to come out of retirement and run how many ever races are left in 2020 whenever we can get back going. Wallace, is a free agent at seasons end too. Ganassi, works out a deal to sign Wallace for 2021 and beyond and has McMurray be the stop gap in between.

NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 - Practice
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 08: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Chevrolet, signs autographs during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 08, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

McMurray, has a relationship with all the sponsors on that car and can easily slide right back in. He was the driver of the McDonald’s car for years in fact. 12 of his 16 full time seasons in Cup were with Ganassi, including his final nine. He’s still in top shape, has the knowledge and has veteran savvy to get this car through the season.

Then, what if Chastain is tabbed as Kurt Busch’s replacement for 2022 and Wallace gets Larson’s seat for 2021 and beyond? Remember, Chastain is already under contract for 2020 with Ganassi anyways. Why not just sign him on a long-term deal through the middle part of this new decade and have him ready for a full time Cup ride for 2022.

Think about the good PR spin Ganassi and NASCAR can make of this situation now. The guy that replaces the driver who made the racist comment is actually one of color.

Wallace, is a good guy and I get why some people think he’s a bit heated at times, but he’s dealing with bouts of depression while trying to compete with an underfunded team in NASCAR’s premiere series. He just made a mistake too in a video game which cost him a sponsor, but come on, it’s a video game and he did what 99-percent of all of us would have done in that situation.

I also wrote about this when it happened too, but when Wallace finished runner-up in his first full time season on the Cup level in 2018 with Richard Petty Motorsports in the season opening Daytona 500, it was great but also could cause problems for the future too. See, the story was fantastic. An African-American coming home second in NASCAR’s biggest race for NASCAR’s most iconic team and doing so as a rookie.

The issue is, there was going to be a stark fall off immediately after that unfortunately and it wasn’t going to be of Wallace’s fault. RPM wasn’t what everyone thought of RPM. See, the new racing fans or some with limited knowledge but became intrigued because of Wallace’s success hear the name Richard Petty and immediately think of a NASCAR record 200 Cup wins and seven Cup championships. What they don’t know is, his team has just been in survival mode for YEARS. They don’t have the money or resources to compete with the big boys of NASCAR anymore and honestly haven’t for a long time. The Daytona 500 runner-up wasn’t surprising because it was in a restrictor plate race where everyone is basically in even equipment due to the nature of that type of racing. There’s only four of those races each season and 32 others where the guys with the best car outweigh maybe guys with more talent but lesser equipment. Wallace, was driving with lesser equipment.

While he has talent, the team just can’t get the cars right for him and that’s neither of their faults. RPM wants to stay afloat and remain in Cup and Wallace wants to stay relevant as a Cup driver. They just don’t have the resources to make it work competitively right now.

So, with Wallace as a free agent at seasons end too, why not give him the ride that he’s been searching for? Why not let him go from the 43 to the 42? After all, the 42 is iconic in baseball for Jackie Robinson. Why can’t Wallace make it that way in NASCAR?

I hate to make this about race because I think Wallace has earned this ride no matter his skin color, but Wallace’s race should be celebrated not ignored. I fully believe he has the talent to compete, he just needs the equipment to do so. He’s earned it.

I’ve seen more African American fans at the race tracks since Wallace’s Cup arrival and it’s time to give those fans something more to cheer about from him. It’s time to get Wallace a ride where he can show the God given talent that he has. It’s time to wake up and let all humans no matter their skin color around this world know that it’s okay to give NASCAR a try because this isn’t a sport that’s racist. Larson’s comment shouldn’t be a reflection on the NASCAR community. This is a moment to show that.

Unfortunately, Larson has made this sport about the wrong “race” again, something that NASCAR has been trying to shed for decades and this moment can turn it back around. What better story to come out of all of this than a person of color, a good person with a a good heart, one that has a ton of skill, getting that ride in the end and turning this into a dream career?

Wallace, is only 26 and won’t be 27 until October. He has plenty of years in his prime to compete with Ganassi. Chastain, is only 27 and won’t be 28 until December.

This could be a great future for Ganassi and one that will see them have two of the rising stars in this sport still and one that will definitely keep the sponsors happy and can be an iconic moment when looking back to what opened the door even further for the African-American culture, not shut it.

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