Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – CHARLOTTE, NC – What had been rumored – and in fact, a deal made — months ago, was formally announced Tuesday afternoon. Kurt Busch will drive the Chip Ganassi Racing team’s No. 1 Chevrolet – sponsored by Monster Energy – in 2019.
Busch, the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series champion and 2017 Daytona 500 winner, said he and the Ganassi team decided to hold off on the announcement until after his run at the 2018 Cup championship. He won at Bristol to qualify for the Playoffs and advanced to the penultimate round driving for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Busch and longtime racing team owner Ganassi announced their pairing Tuesday to the national media. Busch, 39, has a one-year contract with Ganassi that would carry him through his 20th season in Cup next year. However, both men indicated they would revisit an option for 2020 if the upcoming season works out particularly well.
They certainly seem optimistic.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to go out and win races, to have a shot at the championship and to use my experience that I’ve gained over all these years with a group like Chip Ganassi Racing,’’ Busch said. “I feel like it’s a good mesh with [fellow Ganassi driver] Kyle Larson. Something that Chip and I talked about as far as the driver line-up and the way that we wanted to go into 2019 and attack and go right out of the gate and go for wins and get this program where it needs to be and what Chip has for his championship dreams.”
Busch will take over the No. 1 car from fellow Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. But Ganassi said he is hopeful McMurray will remain with the organization, which fields teams in NASCAR, the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Series and IndyCar. McMurray could be an advisor and/or have other driving opportunities.
As for now, Ganassi was extremely optimistic that adding Busch might well be the extra boost his team needs to contend for that elusive Cup title.
“I’ve had calls from two different people at his previous team saying they were going to miss him, and they liked him around the shop,’’ Ganassi said. “They liked him how he got involved with the cars, they liked his input, they liked what he did as a builder of the team and as a teammate.
“So, I think anytime you can have a veteran guy like that, that A. knows how to win races, but B. is a good guy in the locker room per say, I think that brings something to our team that I think will only enhance a young guy like a Larson or any of the other young guys we have that maybe don’t have the years of experience that put a little gray hair on me from time to time.”
Busch has 30 Cup victories over 19 seasons, highlighted by the 2004 title run and a dramatic Daytona 500 victory in 2017. He’s driven for many of the sport’s most iconic teams such as Roush-Fenway, Penske Racing, Furniture Row Racing and most recently the Stewart-Haas organization.
Busch sounded particularly optimistic that his resume and experience would be especially helpful for the Ganassi team, which is still looking for its first Cup title. And Busch said he’s excited to team up with Larson, one of the sport’s brightest young stars.
“Kyle Larson and I have a good racing relationship on track and I saw things change even during the Playoffs this year with some of the talks we have had behind the scenes,’’ Busch said. “As far as outside the track, we haven’t hung out all that much. If I had half a day off, I would go hang out with Chip and his sportscar program, if Larson has a half a day off, he is already at the dirt track, so we will have our time to get caught up.
“I’m looking forward to that relationship. He is a hard charger, he is always up front, there are things he has done to win races, there are also things he has done to lose some races where he was really fast and it’s a matter of putting all of the puzzle pieces together. For me, there has just been that change in life where I feel like I want to help somebody like him.
“I see the talent and for me with all these years of experience, I still have that fire and that desire to challenge and to be upfront and I was only a few laps away from making it to the championship round this year.
“Two-car team, that is where I think there is a positivity of a balance shift to where all efforts are put into two and you don’t have to spread it out across four.”
Both Busch and Ganassi kept open the possibility that Busch might also compete in one of Ganassi’s other racing programs, such as February’s Rolex 24 at Daytona or even make another run in the Indianapolis 500. Busch finished sixth in the 2014 Indy 500 and was Rookie of the Race.
“In my conversations with Kurt, all that stuff is available,’’ Ganassi said. “All our cars are available to all of our drivers. I think it’s just a matter of if the opportunity presents itself and there is obviously a lot more than just me saying ‘hey let’s do it’ and him saying ‘yeah let’s do it’. I am game. “