Jamie McMurray

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Chip Ganassi Racing resurgence continues with dual top 10s in Phoenix

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After four races, the move to shake up Chip Ganassi Racing’s driver lineup appears to have been the right one.

The team placed both its drivers in the top 10 for the first time Sunday at ISM Raceway, with Kyle Larson placing a season-best sixth and Kurt Busch following right behind in seventh

Last year, that feat wasn’t accomplished until the Coca-Cola 600 in May and achieved only a total of four times, with the last coming at IMS Raceway in last fall’s playoffs.

Busch, who replaced Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Chevrolet this season, earned his third straight top 10 following top fives at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

“I’m glad we got a top 10,” Busch said. “We had to battle hard for this one. We didn’t do really good on pit road and we didn’t really do good on restarts, but overall with the Global Poker Chevy it was nice to have a read on some looseness and tightness at a short track and get more notes under our belt. That is key for me and (crew chief) Matt McCall.”

With his three top 10s, Busch needs five more to match McMurray’s total from 2018. He’s already tied McMurray’s total for top fives. Busch also led 23 laps at Las Vegas, which bettered the nine McMurray led in all of 2018.

Last year, Busch didn’t earn the third of his 22 top 10s until race No. 7 at Texas Motor Speedway. He had to wait until race No. 11 at Talladega to earn his first of six top fives.

Busch said it was “awesome” to race head-to-head with Larson in the closing laps around the one-mile track.

They were the top finishing Chevrolet drivers after Busch was at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

“The two of us got a pretty good read on each other on when we are holding each other up or if we are helping each other and then at the end they told me I was about a lap shy on fuel, so I had to save and I just let Larson go and it worked out,” Busch said.

Larson’s finish was much-needed for the No. 42 team after it placed 12th in the last two races in part due to pit road issues.

“It was a clean day for us, so I was happy about that,” Larson said. “Had some really good restarts that kept us in the game. We worked on our balance throughout the race, tried to free it up and got too free and then had to go back on changes to tighten us back up.

“So, yeah to come away with a sixth is nice after the last couple of weeks we’ve had of just making mistakes and even this week we made a big mistake in qualifying, but thankfully, we were able to work through it.”

The two-car team now heads to Auto Club Speedway, where Larson will be seen as a favorite.

Four of his five Cup wins have come on 2-mile speedways, including a win at ACS in 2017. He placed second last year for his second top five there.

Busch will be aiming for his second win there in 26 starts. The first came in 2003.

He’s failed to finish better than 14th at ACS in his last three starts.

Kurt Busch: ‘I haven’t decided’ about NASCAR future

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Where will Kurt Busch race in 2019?

Busch’s current co-owner, Gene Haas, claims to be in the dark about the future of one of his four Cup drivers.

“I really think you need to talk to Kurt Busch and Chip Ganassi and Jamie McMurray. I think they know more than we do,” Haas told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Saturday night, not long after Busch’s first win of the season and a week after it was reported that the 40-year-old driver would leave Stewart-Haas Racing for Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 car next year.

After claiming his 30th Cup Series win, Kurt Busch said he hasn’t made any commitments to where he’ll be racing in 2019.

“I haven’t decided and there’s time, that’s in our favor,” Busch told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, has driven for SHR since 2014 and accumulated six wins, including the 2017 Daytona 500. Saturday night’s win snapped a 58-race winless streak for the No. 41 Ford and secured Busch a spot in the playoffs with teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.

“Drivers have a right to do what they want,” Haas said. “We have expectations, they have expectations and sometimes you can’t all make them meet up to have a favorable outcome. I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s not that it’s personal or anything, it’s just that this is racing. Kurt’s been with us for (five) years. It’s been an interesting time and we’ve had a lot of good time. We won Daytona last year. There’s a lot of good that came out of it. Just like you make changes to cars, sometimes you make changes to crews, sometimes drivers change. I don’t read a lot into it. I don’t have any animosity. Who knows? There’s the possibility he could be driving with us next year. At the moment, the rumor mill knows all.”

It’s the second year in a row Busch’s future in the No. 41 Ford has been in doubt.

Last year, Busch signed a one-year deal in December after SHR declined to pick up his option in August. Busch said then that he also was exploring rides with other teams and that he had offers.

Following the report about his potential departure for Ganassi, Busch said the week leading up to the Bristol race “was tough.”

“There’s not anything to announce or anything to do,” Busch said. “So we’re going to go enjoy this off week and that’s what I’ve asked everybody to do and we just have to have clarity as we move forward. They know I’m a winner. I know they’re a winner. We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Busch’s Bristol win was significant personally, not just because it ended a long winless streak and got him into the playoffs.

He reached a goal he set for himself 19 years ago at the start of his Cup career.

“I always wanted to get to 30 (wins),” Busch said. “This is a big win for me. I grew up at Roush Racing watching a guy named Mark Martin help me. He was a great mentor. I looked up to him as a racer. He had 33, 34 wins (at the time). I think he might have ended his career with 40. Early on, before I won my first ever race, (I thought) If I can get to 30, that’s a pretty special career. Made it tonight. I’m choked up about it. I really love this win tonight. To have six Bristol trophies is special.”

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2016 Team Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

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CHIP GANASSI RACING WITH FELIX SABATES

SPRINT CUP DRIVER LINEUP: Jamie McMurray (crew chief Matt McCall), Kyle Larson (Chad Johnston).

XFINITY DRIVER LINEUP: Part of HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi; drivers splitting duties are Kyle Larson, Brennan Poole and Justin Marks (crew chief is Mike Shiplett).

CHANGES: Chad Johnston joins Larson’s team as crew chief after serving in the same role with Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing. Johnston replaces Chris Heroy, who is now crew chief for Brian Scott at Richard Petty Motorsports… Former Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman is now a minority owner of CGR.

DID YOU KNOW: Team owner Chip Ganassi recorded the fastest rookie qualifying speed in the 1982 Indianapolis 500, faster than fellow rookies Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan, who both eventually won the 500 as drivers (while Ganassi has won it several times as a team owner).

EXPECTATIONS: After struggling during his sophomore season, Larson enters his third full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series. Will this be the year he finally earns his long anticipated first Sprint Cup win, as well as making the Chase for the first time? As for McMurray, he made the Chase for the first time in his career last season and looks to build upon that, as well as his strong performance in the second half of 2015.

WHAT THEY SAID:

– “You’ve got to finish races. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned. That’s the biggest thing I still need to work on. I’ve had a lot of DNFs and that takes you out of contention to make the Chase. A lot of them were mechanical, but a lot of them were also my doing. Just being more patient. There’s a lot of times where they’ve been mechanical failures but they’ve been probably mistakes I made in the race car. Shifting or abusing the tires and blowing the tires. I’ve just got to get better at being patient,” Kyle Larson said.

– “The fact that we had three different rules packages (last year), we didn’t put a lot of effort into the high-drag and the low-downforce package. There was a little bit of effort, but minimal because we knew we were going to make the Chase at that point and we wanted to run as well as we could in the Chase. There were only so many resources and so much time. I don’t feel like we put the same effort in that a Gibbs or a Hendricks did. Taking with Matt (McCall) and the other engineers at our shop, they have made significant improvements from Darlington and Kentucky. So I think from a team side, the gains we have made should be bigger than, hopefully, what the other guys already have,” Jamie McMurray said.

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Revamped Daytona gets rave reviews from Ganassi and drivers

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While most other NASCAR drivers and teams won’t see the finished Daytona Rising project for another few weeks when they come down to Florida for Speedweeks, several of those competing in the Jan. 29-30 Rolex 24 got a sneak preview of the “new” Daytona International Speedway this week.

Not surprisingly, the reactions were all positive.

“It’s definitely taller and bigger for sure,’ ” driver Kyle Larson said Friday during a Rolex 24 media session. “When we come back in a couple weeks, and I have some time to spend in a day, I’d like to go up into the stands and see the breezeway and stuff like that.

“I’ve heard that’s really, really spectacular. Once I get on the other side of the racetrack other than being in the infield, I’ll see all the changes and how cool they are.’ ”

Larson and Sprint Cup teammate Jamie McMurray will team with 2015 IndyCar champ Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the No. 02 Ford for owner Chip Ganassi, which won last year’s Rolex 24.

McMurray was quite effusive at what he saw when he pulled into the DIS infield.

“When I was driving in, you can see how big the grandstands are,” McMurray told reporters. “I didn’t quite get how big that was going to be from (a photo he previously had seen of the completed project).

“Also, from just being here in July, the stands weren’t up yet. First thing you notice is there are no backstretch stands; which is odd. But when you look at how big the frontstretch is, it’s pretty cool.”

DIS President Joie Chitwood III has referred to the $400 million renovation — the biggest change in the track’s history since it first opened in 1959 — as creating the world’s first “motorsports stadium,” something McMurray concurs with.

“To go outside the track and look in, it doesn’t look like a racetrack, it looks like a stadium,” he said. “It’s really cool. They did an awesome job on that.”

Ganassi has seen quite a bit in his 30-plus years as a racer and team owner. It takes a lot to impress him. But suffice to say he’s definitely impressed with the new Daytona.

“When you first hear they spent $400 million, your initial reaction as a racer is, ‘Oh my goodness, surely they didn’t spend 400 million dollars,’ ” Ganassi said. “And then you see the work that’s been done, you’re looking at the grandstands and if you have a chance to see what’s behind the grandstand and what’s underneath it — it looks like they spent $800 million.

“It’s really something, really first-class, really, really done right. I think it’s going to take our sport to a new level in terms of amenities and what the fans can expect. It’s going to put pressure on the other tracks.

“This is going to be the Ritz-Carlton of race tracks in terms of amenities. It’s what you see at the finest NFL stadiums and NHL arenas. And it’s money spent for the fans. I couldn’t be happier for what it’s going to do for our fans and for our sport. People are going to be talking about their experience as a fan at Daytona.”

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2015 Season in Review: Jamie McMurray

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Jamie McMurray

CREW CHIEF: Matt McCall

TEAM: Chip Ganassi Racing

POINTS: 13th

WINS: 0

TOP 5s: 4

TOP 10s: 10

LAPS LED: 14

POLES: 0

WHAT WENT RIGHT: In theory, a lot. McMurray made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career. He also ended with his highest season finish since he wound up 12th in 2005. … He developed a good rapport with new crew chief Matt McCall, his second crew chief in as many seasons. … Had best per-race finishing average of 14.9, his best since 2004. … He earned $5,680,016.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Like what went right, in theory, a lot as well. He had fewer top fives and top 10s (4 and 10, respectively) in 2015 than 2014 (7 and 13). He also had zero poles in 2015 than 2014 (2). He also led just 14 laps, the lowest of his career. … Even though he made the Chase for the first time in his career, he failed to get past the first round of eliminations. … Has not won a race since 2013 and just one race overall since 2011.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2016: McMurray and McCall had a strong debut season together in 2015 and should likely continue to expand their relationship in 2016. McMurray needs to work more with teammate Kyle Larson, who has his own challenges, particularly to finally win his much-anticipated first career Sprint Cup race. Frankly, I think McMurray and Larson can have outstanding seasons and potentially be one of the biggest surprise organizations in 2016. … Both need to work on consistency and improve on top-five and top-10 finishes, but they certainly have the talent and support crew around them to do so.

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