The Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 in the NASCAR Cup Series has just two top-five finishes since Kyle Larson’s tenure ended more than a year ago. What’s wrong at CGR, and what should be done?
Josh Roller: The No. 42 with Ross Chastain behind the wheel is heading in the right direction in 2021, despite only having two finishes inside the top 10. The way Kurt Busch and the No. 1 team has struggled this season makes the situation look worse for wear. I’m wondering if CGR has shifted its focus toward the Next Gen car and stopped developing the current car. When it comes to the No. 42, I don’t place the blame on Chastain, as I believe the car has been the hindrance, not his talent.
Dalton Hopkins: We should take a look at correlation and perhaps link it to causation. Kyle Larson earned 56 top fives in his seven years with the No. 42 team, including his four starts in 2020. That’s eight top fives per year. In the last year, there have only been two top fives. What was the factor that changed? The departure of Larson. It’s time we realize that the reason CGR was doing somewhat well all those years is because Larson is just a really good racecar driver. Look at the No. 1 team; aside from Busch’s two wins, its performance has been nowhere near on par with the No. 42 prior to Larson’s termination. Perhaps this is the true strength of CGR, and Larson, who is now winning multiple races for a top team, was the one keeping it successful all this time.
Luken Glover: This has been a mysterious case, as the other Chevrolet teams have boosted their performance significantly over the past two years. A couple of different things can likely be attributed to it. For starters, the main blow came in the dismissal of Larson, who had accounted for all but one of the team’s wins since his rookie season in 2014. When he was released, you could get a sense that CGR had lost hope. Jamie McMurray had been a bubble driver the whole time, and Busch could only elevate the team so much. Then you put a 48-year-old, partially retired Matt Kenseth, who had never dealt with this Cup package before, in the seat. On top of that, the team has now lost Credit One, who had sponsored a plethora of races from 2017-2020, as a primary sponsor. That being said, Chastain has quietly earned five top-15 finishes in the past eight races. There may need to be some personnel changes made in the competition department, but Chastain is a quick learner who keeps his foot on the gas. Expect the No. 42 team to find its footing soon.
Jared Haas: It is not just the No. 42 team struggling in 2021, as CGR’s other team is not performing well. Busch and Chastain both have one top five and two top 10s combined. Only one of those top 10s was scored at a 1.5-mile track. Even though Busch is higher in points this season, Chastain has led more laps and a better average finishing position. Still, change needs to happen at the CGR level, not just with the No. 42 crew.
There is plenty of uncertainty surrounding Ryan Newman’s future as a Cup driver. If he retired today, are his accomplishments worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame?
Haas: Ricky Rudd and Ryan Newman have similar career arcs in terms of drivers with many starts but no championship. Both have a similar winning percentage, though Newman has 200 fewer starts and his career has spanned fewer years than Rudd. The Hall of Fame entry process has been evolving. If Newman has time, he might get in the Hall of Fame way down the road. If NASCAR does what the MLB does with limiting how long a person can be on the ballot, Newman’s chance of getting into the Hall of Fame will be slim.
Glover: This is one of the most underrated topics in NASCAR. It really depends on who you talk to. Newman fits in a category with Kasey Kahne, Marvin Panch, Geoff Bodine, Harry Gant, Rudd and Greg Biffle: guys who were really good but just below superstardom. Eventually, most, if not all of these guys will likely make the Hall. There’s only a small number of guys who are getting ready to retire, and they still have to wait three years for eligibility. Newman could likely be the benchmark; either you just make it in, or you just miss out. He’s a Daytona 500 winner, Brickyard 400 winner and has 18 wins, tied for 47th all time. He also has been a big contributor with safety with his influence on the Newman bar. The cons are that he hasn’t won multiple races in a season since 2004 and has only been a legitimate title contender twice. He will get in but is on the edge.
Hopkins: As much as people seem to like him, Newman’s success seems to fall short when it comes to being Hall of Fame-worthy. It is not required to have Daytona 500 wins and championships to become a Hall of Famer (i.e., Mark Martin). However, if you don’t have either one of those things, you better be really good at everything else. When somebody thinks about Newman’s career, what accomplishments do they think of? His 2008 Daytona 500 victory? That’s a big one, but is one Daytona 500 win enough to make it into the Hall? If it is, then Trevor Bayne might have a shot. What about both a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victory? If that’s the case, why don’t I see anyone vying for McMurray to be inducted?
Roller: Without his Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victories, Newman would be borderline and the debate around whether he is Hall of Fame worthy or not would be warranted. But his victories in two of NASCAR’s crown jewel events, in addition to winning The Winston in 2002 as a rookie and sitting ninth on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series pole winners list with 51, eclipses him past the point of debate. In addition to his 18 Cup victories, he has won in the Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, ARCA Menards Series and Whelen Modified Tour. All that together, without question, will one day land Newman in the Hall of Fame.
Should the Memorial Day weekend schedule be adjusted to make it possible to run the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double again?
Glover: It would be a neat thing to see. Drivers such as Kyle Busch and Larson have voiced a desire in the past to pull a Memorial Day double. It does bring extra attention for both sports. At the same time, I can see the desire not to. It’s a tough thing in itself to go between Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway multiple times a week. Racing is still a dangerous sport on all levels, but the NTT IndyCar Series is arguably more dangerous than NASCAR. This leads to team owners in the Cup Series forbidding their drivers to run the Indy 500. While it would be a cool thing to see in the motorsports world, it is not a pressing issue.
Haas: NASCAR and IndyCar can easily tweak their start times by 30 minutes to accommodate the Memorial Day 1,100. Having racing crossovers between series, fans can learn about other drivers in each series. If a driver is up to the challenge of doing two races in one day, there should a little bit more wiggle room than 90 minutes between races.
Roller: The Indianapolis 500 would need to start sooner, as I wouldn’t be in favor of starting the Coca-Cola 600 any later than it already does. It really is for the sanctioning bodies, along with the TV networks, to work out. There would need to be more than just one or two drivers interested in attempting the double to make any effort worth it. Right now, I can’t name an IndyCar driver interested in doing the double, and only Kyle Busch and Larson have expressed true interest from the NASCAR side. I’m one for more crossover in auto racing, and if the TV schedule could be realigned to allow a driver to do the double, let alone making it more appealing to try, I’m for that change.
Hopkins: As fun as it is to watch a driver take on the challenge, television reigns supreme. When it comes to race start times, whatever the network says goes. Even if that weren’t the case, NASCAR and IndyCar certainly aren’t going to come together and move one race aside for another. That being said, we’re seeing an increasing number of NASCAR drivers be interested in IndyCar and vice versa. There’s a likelihood that Kyle Busch would attempt it, along with Larson. Realistically, it likely will not occur, but there’s no doubt that if it did, it would be a popular decision.
SRX unveiled a title sponsorship from Camping World. Do you envision the series having long-term success?
Hopkins: Somebody has to be the Debbie Downer here. When Tony Stewart started SRX, he likely expected to have names like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. joining him in his small field of late models on the short tracks of America. Unfortunately, when it comes to star power, the SRX may have fallen short. Sure, seeing Willy T. Ribbs race against Bill Elliott in a late model at Eldora Speedway will be neat, but is it enough to capture an audience? Does anybody outside of the core racing fanbase know who Ernie Francis Jr. is? Motorsports in general have a tough time as it is attracting new fans, and watching mostly retired racecar drivers in a field of less than 20 racing on short tracks won’t attract much of an audience. That sounds like something akin to what ARCA is now. While that will interest me and core race fans, you can only hold on to a core fan base for so long.
Glover: It has the makings to be successful. If I’m SRX, I’m doing everything I can to promote this series, and it has already done a good job at it. The big key will be attracting sponsorship and fans. This series will not rely on money as heavily, however, so the neat thing will be that it comes down to the racing and entertainment. If it continues to bring in stars of the motorsports world and have a good rotation of retired or partially retired stars, it could lead to bigger opportunities for more racers down the road.
Roller: The key will be getting drivers with diverse racing backgrounds to compete and mix in some current stars, too. If there is a 2022 season (and I hope there is), I wish for Formula 1 alum Mark Webber to compete in it, because it will be important for SRX to be more than just a NASCAR-IndyCar legends series. The best thing that could happen to SRX would be an F1 alum like Webber to go tell the F1 community that short track racing in America is fun. I know there are drivers competing in the 2021 season that aren’t IndyCar and NASCAR alum — like Francis and Scott Bloomquist — and that will need to continue if the series is to survive long term. But it will also be important to get drivers like Alexander Rossi, Chase Elliott, Rinus VeeKay and Kyle Busch, who are full time in a well-established touring championship. That will bring more eyes to watch the SRX product live and in person.
Haas: SRX can become the next IROC since IROC’s departure after the 2006 season. There is a chance that the series has some long-term success, as there are some interesting drivers like Michael Waltrip and Ribbs. SRX should last longer than the XFL, but SRX is not going to replace NASCAR overnight. The first season of racing is going to show how long the series can last. Something fresh is all that is needed to create something that can last.