ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Kurt Busch entered the Chevrolet simulator last Wednesday with a clear mind — and phone. When he exited, there were about 200 unread messages. Busch immediately knew something happened.
While he was turning laps on the virtual Road America, the Trackhouse Racing Team announced it purchased Busch‘s current team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
“It was a surprise to me,” Busch said Saturday after posting the fastest speed in the NASCAR Cup Series practice at Road America. “But all of us at Ganassi looked at each other and said, ‘We‘ve got a playoff berth right in front of us. Let‘s go get it, let‘s win, and let‘s push as hard as we can here, right now, in 2021.’”
Chip Ganassi Racing has 16 NASCAR races left in its tank, starting with Sunday‘s Jockey Made in America 250 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Trackhouse will acquire CGR‘s equipment and two charters at the conclusion of the 2021 season. Trackhouse currently leases a charter from Spire Motorsports to back the No. 99 Toyota, driven by Daniel Suarez, who will return in 2022.
That leaves one seat open, and there are two drivers at Chip Ganassi Racing — Busch in the No. 1 Chevrolet and Ross Chastain in the No. 42 entry. Busch is in his third season with Ganassi. Chastain is in his first.
“We‘ve actually talk — (owner) Justin Marks and myself — about Trackhouse,” Busch said. “Now it‘s going to have a different name and branding, and I‘m familiar with everybody at Ganassi, so it changes the complexion of how we‘ve talked already and what we still need to talk about.”
Nothing in Busch’s long-term future is confirmed yet. The 2004 champ does have a call in to FOX Sports, which is now down an analyst after Jeff Gordon‘s departure for a vice-chairman position at Hendrick Motorsports. Busch will be in the booth for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs this season and next, he confirmed.
The Trackhouse-Ganassi news was also a shock to Denny Hamlin, whose 23XI Racing Team is looking to obtain a second charter, but the change of power doesn‘t worry him.
“I don‘t think (charters are) as scarce as people think,” Hamlin said. “There are still rules in there that you still gotta go out there and compete. You can‘t just ride around, or else your charter could be up for sale. There are a lot of provisions, a lot of ways you can get into this sport. And we‘re looking at all avenues.”
Kyle Larson, who races for Hendrick Motorsports now, is currently Chip Ganassi Racing‘s winningest driver with six victories. Larson began his full-time Cup career with CGR in 2014 and continued it until 2020, when he was released four races into the season after his use of a racial slur on an iRacing platform.
“Obviously wish things would have worked out better for me last year and all that with their race team,” Larson said. “But he‘s meant a lot to me. He‘s not leaving racing. He‘s still going to make a huge impact on motorsports. He‘s one of the greatest car owners there‘s ever been in motorsports. I‘m just thankful I got to race for him.”
Jamie McMurray has the second-most wins with five. He stepped out from the No. 1 machine in 2018, giving the wheel to Busch.
Busch has two wins under the Chip Ganassi Racing banner — one apiece in 2019 and 2020. He currently ranks 14th in points and is three points to the good on the playoff cutline. Chastain is 22nd.
“We‘ve won a couple races but would love to see more wins,” Busch said. “Just got to go out and push hard here as a winner. Because Chip is a winner. I think that‘s what his legacy is going to be.”