2017 NASCAR Team Recap: Chip Ganassi Racing

(Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

For the final five days of 2017, Kickin’ the Tires will recap each of the top 10 teams in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, laying out their year in statistics and storylines. 


The Breakdown

Wins: Four

Playoff Berths: Two

Highest Points Finisher: Ninth

Driver Results:

  • Ryan Blaney (Eighth in Points – Four wins, 15 top fives, 20 top 10s, 1352 laps led, Seven DNFs)
  • Jamie McMurray (12th in Points – Zero wins, Three top fives, 17 top 10s, 21 laps led, Five DNFs)

What could have been.

Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray put together two of the best seasons that either driver has managed in their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series careers for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2017.

But in the end both teams in the organization fell apart when it mattered most, dropping out of championship contention and exiting the year quietly.

Considered to be among the great talents in all of modern motorsports, Larson was again the top driver for Ganassi’s NASCAR program. The Californian nearly won the season-opening Daytona 500, followed it up with three second-place runs and then finally won in the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway.

The strong opening stint was a coming of age for Larson, who had won in 2016 but hadn’t yet put together a consistent campaign in his NASCAR career. By winning early, the 25-year-old clinched his way into the playoffs for a second-straight year. And by virtue of his consistency, Larson also inherited the Cup Series points lead.

From the opening month on, Larson was consistently among the top drivers in the series. He stayed in the top three in points for the entire regular season, pouring on his third-and-fourth-consecutive victories on two-mile ovals with back-to-back victories at Michigan International Speedway in the summer.

Just when it appeared the “Two-Mile Kyle” nickname might stick, Larson added another victory at a short track in Richmond Raceway to close out the regular season with four triumphs and a plethora of playoff points.

While Larson was storming to the front, teammate McMurray slid through the 2017 regular season with smooth consistency.

Outside of three DNFs from crashes, the Joplin, Missouri native finished outside of the top 15 only once in the regular season. He tallied 13 top 10s and two top fives – including a second-place run at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring – to soar into the top 10 in points.

Even in a regular season that saw a plethora of surprise winners, McMurray’s consistent drive kept him well clear of the playoff cutoff on points for the majority of the regular season. When the checkered flag flew for teammate Larson at Richmond, McMurray sat ninth in points – easily earning a third-consecutive postseason berth.

With both drivers running strong, CGR appeared poised to contend for a championship in NASCAR’s playoffs. But once the postseason began, the organization’s title chase began to fall apart.

McMurray found himself trapped in an early hole – stuck at the back of the playoff grid because of his lack of playoff points. He persevered to make the second round after a ninth-place effort at Dover International Speedway, but a pair of crashes at Talladega and Kansas Speedway in the Round of 12 would prove too much for the 41-year-old to overcome.

While McMurray’s championship pursuit was undone by his lack of playoff points, Larson’s hefty bonus point total made him one of a handful of drivers – joining Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch – which seemed like a lock to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Instead his season blew up in all-too literal fashion.

Larson easily survived the first round, scoring three-straight top fives to move into the Round of 12 with ease. Finishes of 10th and 13th in the opening two events of the round had Larson all-but secured into the Round of 8 heading to Kansas. All he needed to do was avoid catastrophe.

But then catastrophe came. On Lap 73, Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet erupted in smoke, forcing the fourth-year driver to the garage and ending his day. The culprit – a blown motor – would prove to be Larson’s undoing.

When the the race drew to a close hours later, Larson sat ninth in the standings – the first driver to be eliminated.

From there things only got worse for Larson. He finished no better than 37th in the Round of 8, suffering a blown motor and two early crashes that kept him from contending for a top-five finish in points.

Larson bounced back with a strong third-place run at Homestead, but could only watch in the final laps as Truex and Busch battled for a title ahead of him. He ended the year eighth in the standings – a career-best mark, but also one that proved underwhelming after the year that preceded it.

McMurray followed in a tie with Austin Dillon for 11th after a quiet postseason run. Dillon took the position on a tiebreaker, pushing McMurray to 12th.

In retrospect, CGR’s 2017 can be remembered as the year when the team took the next step, even if it ended in disappointment. Larson had by far the best year of his young career, setting new career marks in wins (4), top fives (15), top 10s (20), poles (3), laps led (1352) and average finish (13.3).

The veteran McMurray also enjoyed a strong season, one bested only by his 2004 campaign. The 16-year Cup Series veteran’s 17 top 10s were the most he’s managed in a season since returning to CGR in 2010, as was his 14.6 average finish. His 12th-place finish in points was also the best result he’s accomplished in a playoff.

After years of showing potential, CGR were a legitimate championship threat in 2017, and arguably Chevrolet’s best team. If the organization can continue to improve in 2018, it would be no surprise for one or both of the organization’s drivers to end up in the Championship 4 next November.

 

Team Recaps: 

Germain Racing (Dec. 27)

Roush Fenway Racing (Dec. 27)

Richard Childress Racing (Dec. 28)

Wood Brothers Racing (Dec. 28)

Chip Ganassi Racing (Dec. 29)

Hendrick Motorsports (Dec. 29)

Team Penske (Dec. 30)

Stewart-Haas Racing (Dec. 30)

Joe Gibbs Racing (Dec. 31)

Furniture Row Racing (Dec. 31)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *