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2017 NASCAR Cup Team Review: Chip Ganassi Racing

Chip Ganassi Racing exploded onto the the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series scene.

Across the board, it was their best year yet. Led by 25-year-old Larson and 15-year veteran Jamie McMurray, CGR found Victory Lane early and often. They also set a new team record in laps led while earning their best championship finish in 16 years.

Most of this success came with Larson and the No. 42 crew, who scored all four of the team’s wins in 2017. Combating the Toyota era of dominance in Cup, Larson was the only non-Toyota to lead more than 1,000 laps (1,352) and to win more than three times.

Additionally, Larson eclipsed his previous career-best numbers in every category besides lead-lap finishes. From wins, top fives, top 10s, average finish, to poles, it was the breakout season the sport has been waiting for from this Californian.

It all started in March at — where else? — Auto Club Speedway in California. Here, Larson ended a streak of three consecutive runner-up finishes by dominating the 400-miler from the pole, leading 110 laps.

Larson returned to Victory Lane three months later at Michigan International Speedway. There, he also won from the pole before sweeping the year’s two races at the midwestern track in August.

But despite upsetting Martin Truex Jr. in that second Michigan win, the Toyotas proved to still outrun the top Chevy performer in 2017. From August on, a maiden short track victory at Richmond Raceway to end the regular season would stand as Larson’s last of 2017. Toyota would win eight of the 10 playoff races toward the championship while CGR fell short of a title.

In fact, a blown engine that ended Kyle Larson’s championship run at Kansas Speedway in October kickstarted a late-season slump. The No. 42 team, who also had wrecked at Talladega went on to suffer through four straight DNFs. From the blown motor at Kansas, to back-to-back 37ths at Martinsville and Texas and another engine failure at Phoenix, Larson’s highest season reached its lowest point.

But there was one more bullet in the gun for Larson. He had Homestead-Miami Speedway to cap it all off in a thrilling season finale. Watching Truex and Kyle Busch fight for the title in his windshield, Larson would bring the No. 42 Chevrolet home third. That was good enough for a shoulder shrug and an uplifting smile after a difficult NASCAR Playoffs.

Don’t be mistaken; all of CGR’s happy moments did not come from one side of the shop.

McMurray entered the 2017 season with a 112-race winless streak — longer than Larson’s entire Cup career at that point. That led to continued question marks surrounding his future. Could the 41-year-old win again? Would he stand a chance with Larson driving circles around him?

Some of these doubts have followed McMurray since the start of his Cup career in 2002. But after a solid start, he seemed to overcome them in 2017. The veteran scored marked improvement from recent years, in particular with consistency. While Larson struggled mightily there, recording nine finishes of 25th or worse and seven DNFs, his teammate picked up the pace.

For McMurray, 29 top-20 finishes would tie him with Chase Elliott as the most of any Chevrolet in 2017. Additionally, McMurray earned his best career average start (10.1). He also scored the most top 10s (17) and best championship finish (12th) for him in 12 years.

Even if McMurray didn’t return to Victory Lane, the Missouri native broke out of the pack. Finding a niche all his own, consistency clearly paid off. As we’ve seen in the past, simply finishing races can get you places. It can even help in the offseason.

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On the year, CGR led more laps than Hendrick Motorsports despite half the cars and was the only Chevy team to win in the last four months of the season. Larson out-qualified McMurray 24-12 while outracing him 22-14. Despite this fact, McMurray finished more laps than Larson on the year, earning a better average start, fewer DNFs, and one more lead-lap finish than his fourth-year teammate.

All signs point upward for 2018.

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