Chip Ganassi has made it known that he likes winners, and in 2021, he believes he’s got two of them lined up to drive his Chevrolets to multiple victories in the NASCAR Cup Series. Kurt Busch will return to the no. 1 car for his third season with Ganassi and Ross Chastain will finally have the opportunity to drive a Ganassi-powered Chevrolet after his Xfinity deal with Ganassi fell through due to a loss in sponsorship during the 2018-2019 offseason.
Since the turn of the century, Chip Ganassi Racing hasn’t won more than four races in a single season, and despite Kurt Busch’s consistency in 2020, the organization only has one win to show for their efforts last season. The organization lost the talent of Kyle Larson during the COVID hiatus after Larson used a racial slur on a Twitch stream. This led to Matt Kenseth driving the 42 car in 2020, and for the most part, the 42 team underperformed.
2021 isn’t necessarily an opportunity for Chip Ganassi Racing to “rebuild,” because they haven’t exactly fallen off where they were at, but with the combination of a veteran driver and a young-and-hungry driver with Cup experience, Ganassi could be looking at a golden opportunity to turn up the heat next season and put their rather underwhelming 2020 season behind them.
Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
2020: 36 starts, 1 win, 7 top-fives, 19 top-10s, one pole, 169 laps led, 10th in points
Career: 720 starts, 32 wins, 150 top-fives, 317 top-10s, 28 poles
2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch has been a quietly consistent driver since 2014 when he joined Stewart-Haas Racing. In 2019, Busch’s contract with Stewart-Haas expired and he found himself behind the wheel of Chip Ganassi’s no. 1 Chevrolet. He’s scored two wins in the last two seasons with Ganassi, coming at Kentucky in July 2019 and at Las Vegas in September 2020.
Busch has been part of the playoffs each of the last eight seasons and had one his best performances in 2020, making it into the round of 8 but failing to advance to the championship four. Kurt’s been known to get the most out of his equipment and there doesn’t seem to be a reason that he couldn’t have an equally-consistent season in 2021 as he’s had the past two years.
Busch has also made it known that there’s a 50/50 chance that 2021 would be his final full-time season in NASCAR Cup Series competition. Busch’s contract with Ganassi expires after the completion of the 2021 season, and given that next season will be Busch’s 21st year in Cup competition, it isn’t far-fetched to think that Busch could call it a career after next year. Like Jimmie Johnson, he’s expressed interest in competing in other forms of racing, particularly running the Indianapolis 500 in the NTT IndyCar Series. Retiring would give Busch a better chance to do just that as well as spend more time with his family.
The writer’s prediction: Kurt Busch will continue to be quietly consistent in 2021. He’ll make the playoffs, going as far as the round of 12, and he’ll score one win in what will be his final full-time season in NASCAR competition. Like Clint Bowyer, Busch may join a broadcasting partner of NASCAR’s, so we may still be seeing the elder Busch brother for a while.
Ross Chastain, No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
2020: 8 starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles, 1 lap led, N/A for Cup Series points
Career: 79 starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 1 top-10, 0 poles
Looking at Ross Chastain’s statistical numbers in the Cup Series isn’t exactly fair when comparing him against other drivers in the series. Chastain has been driving for underfunded teams that are lucky to get top-20 finishes in almost all 79 of his Cup Series starts.
Chastain has done the most triple-duty of any NASCAR driver in recent memory because he’s been accumulating points in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Chastain was going to race for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2019 full-time, but after DC Solar, his sponsor-to-be, was raided by the FBI during the 2018-2019 off-season, he was unable to race for Ganassi, so he elected to accumulate points in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the 2019 season.
Ross Chastain is a competitive driver and has proven it time and time again. Truthfully, the truck team he was with, Niece Motorsports, and his 2020 Xfinity team fielded by Kaulig Racing, were not exactly top-tier equipment, and he often outperformed what he should have gotten out of the equipment, and I expect him to carry that into the NASCAR Cup Series when he races in 2021 with Ganassi.
The writer’s prediction: Chastain won’t win in 2021, but he will be competitive and make the playoffs. He’s in equipment capable of top-10 finishes, but the season is going to be about getting experience in a higher-tier ride as well as meshing with his crew. He’ll be ready to win in 2022.