INDIANAPOLIS — One of the biggest, most, coveted seats for the NASCAR Cup Series offseason got a head start with an opening this month. See, with how things stand right at this very moment, a ride at Penske, Gibbs, Ganassi and a couple with Hendrick and SHR are open for the 2021 season. We knew that all along though.
But, the Ganassi ride was up to interpretation. The team wanted Kyle Larson back. He was still considered a rising star and Ganassi could give him everything he wanted which included dirt racing in his free time. The two sides would have loved to work something out. But, as we went into Easter weekend, neither had a deal in place which left the 42 seat available for the future still.
Then, Larson went out and made a racial slur on Easter night during a video game race which two days later cost him not only his future with the organization, but his ride in the now too. Ganassi, fired Larson in wake of using that word.
So, not only was the 42 open for 2021 and beyond, it was open now as well.
All signs then pointed in the direction of Ross Chastain. He was the obvious choice as a replacement not only in the now, but for years to come too. Chastain, has had an unlikely journey to this point but it would be fitting that he got his big Cup break in a bizarre situation.
He took a chance on himself in 2018 and turned down a full time seat in the Xfinity Series for a smaller team. He took some money to make three starts with Ganassi and their NXS program. It paid off as he had a win and a second place finish in those three opportunities. That led him to what he thought was a full time ride with Ganassi in the Xfinity Series for 2019. Unfortunately, a fall out from a crooked sponsor (DC Solar) cost Ganassi their NXS team and Chastain his ride. He remained under contract still with Ganassi for last year and this one but was forced to find work in the Trucks and Xfinity Series’. That in turn was paying off as he was dominating in both. Then, he got a fill in role at Roush Fenway Racing this year on the Cup level even.
Chastain, was already filling in for Roush Fenway Racing for the injured Ryan Newman. He raced all three west coast races after running in the season opening Daytona 500 for a Ganassi/Spire joint entry. He was championship eligible and by time the COVID-19 break ended, Newman was likely going to be back in the No. 6 Ford anyways.
That move was confirmed on Sunday afternoon.
Chastain, was free to come back to Ganassi, as after all, he’s still under contract with them and has had a wild journey to his first full time Cup seat with a top team. He’s supposed to run that third car (Spire entry with Ganassi’s help) for May’s Coca-Cola 600 and having him just shift over to the No. 42 Chevrolet made a lot of sense.
The expected announcement by Ganassi on Monday was supposed to have Chastain’s name tied to it, right? It wasn’t. The ride went to Matt Kenseth instead.
Kenseth, will replace Larson for the duration of the 2020 season in the 42 seat. The Wisconsin native just turned 48 and hasn’t ran a NASCAR race since November 2018.
That got everyone wondering, is Chastain’s future with Ganassi on limited time? Ganassi quickly dispelled those rumors to the AP in saying that he still has big plans for Chastain. The reason Ganassi went with Kenseth now is for stability and he wants to win — now.
After all, Ganassi likes winners. While Chastain has been a proven winner in the feeder series, he has yet to win in Cup — albeit he’s never had a contending car in NASCAR’s premiere series either.
Kenseth, 48, is a two-time Daytona 500 champion. He’s won the Southern 500, the Bristol night race, the Coke 600 and is a former series champion outright (2003). He’s made 665 starts in NASCAR’s premiere series and reached victory lane in 39 of them.
His most recent best work was when he came back to Roush Fenway Racing to make 15 appearances in the No. 6 Ford. That car had been a mid field at best effort. They needed Kenseth’s veteran presence back to see if the issues really started at the car or if it was Trevor Bayne holding them back.
Kenseth, found out that it was a little bit of both and got them on the right track. By time he was done, he was a top 10 machine. He’d leave after the 2018 season and give the seat to Ryan Newman to take over for 2019 and beyond. The Indiana native immediately hopped in and made the postseason last year even without winning a race. That was due to all the work Kenseth did for them in 2018 and the direction that he led them.
Ganassi, saw that and wants the same.
He already has Kenseth’s former teammate at RFR in Kurt Busch to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet. Busch, propelled the No. 1 Chevrolet to its best season in a long time a year ago. Kenseth, can up the effort out of the 42 car for 2020 and put them in a better position for 2021 which would all likelihood go to Chastain anyways.
Busch and Kenseth are shaping Ganassi’s future. Why rush Chastain up when he can keep his NXS and Truck programs together for 2020 and not have to be bought out of any of those rides and let him move up to Cup with a definitive race winning car in 2021?
In a day and age where the rides in NASCAR are going to younger and younger drivers, Ganassi knows that his future isn’t with two 40+ year old veterans. The veterans though are former champions and can shape the future of Ganassi.