Ganassi team on the bubble with Chase looming
The next four Sprint Cup series races will go a long way toward determining whether Chip Ganassi's bid to conquer the world of racing is successful. The Sprint Cup is by far the most important of the six series where Ganassis is competing. But there's a chance that neither one of his drivers, Jamie McMurray nor Kyle Larson, will make the postseason Chase.
On the other hand, Larson could win one of the four remaining races before the postseason -- starting at the Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night -- and help Ganassi get both of his drivers into the Chase. McMurray and Larson could also both make the Chase on points if Chris Buescher, the upset winner at the Pocono Raceway earlier this year, fails to make the Top 30, which is required for a race winner to advance.
In any event, a unique season was predetermined for the Ganassi team in a year characterized as "18 drivers, 14 cars, and six series."
A successful season is already a lock for Ganassi in one respect. His factory Ford GT team won its class at the Le Mans 24-hour in June after a heated battle with one of the Ferrari teams. That victory came in the inaugural season for the incomparable Ford GT -- and fifty years after Ford first conquered the great French race in 1966.
That was the year the Ford Mk. II beat a bevy of Enzo Ferrari's entries for the overall honors as Henry Ford II took revenge on the Italian, who reneged on a promise to sell his sports car company to Ford.
The Chevy side of the equation is not doing as well this year in NASCAR or IndyCar, where a last-place finish by defending series champ Scott Dixon after ill-advised contact at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course dropped him to a distant fifth place in the standings. He is now tied with Ganassi teammate Tony Kanaan.
Making NASCAR's Chase would go a long way toward uplifting sponsors, Chevy and the Ganassi team's stock car reputation. As it is, this season remains the second straight without a victory. So a win by Larson, who has been running among the leaders this year on a variety of tracks, would be gigantic.
The Californian would be in a much stronger position in the points, at least, if he hadn't been dumped in the final corner at Watkins Glen by A.J. Allmendinger while running fourth, which cost Larson 25 points.
Among the four tracks remaining before the postseason, in addition to Bristol, Larson was also a contender at the Michigan International Speedway, where he finished third earlier this year.
If Buescher, who is currently three points shy, advances into the Top 30, then McMurray is on the bubble in the current standings as the fourth driver to advance on points. The next driver is Larson, who trails his teammate by a distant 30 points.
The most likely scenario is that one of the two Ganassi drivers make it. Even if Buescher advances, somebody will have to step up to get the final position available on points currently held by McMurray -- assuming no new winner emerges in the last four races. Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Blaney are the most likely new winners and also the three drivers who could catch McMurray and/or Larson in the points. Another potential winner is veteran Greg Biffle, teammate to Bayne at Roush Fenway Racing, still in the midst of its rebuilding effort.
A bright spot for Ganassi in NASCAR has been the rookie season of Brennan Poole in the Xfinity Series. Although he doesn't have a victory, the rookie is currently on track to make this year's first Chase for the understudy series. The ARCA series convert is second to Erik Jones in the rookie standings, but is not likely to catch 20-year-old phenomenon Jones, who has three victories and 11 Top 5 finishes.
Another success story for Ganassi has been the Ford GT team that runs in the WeatherTech series of IMSA. In addition to winning its one-off appearance at Le Mans, the team has won three races in the American series. Drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe are currently locked in a championship battle with the Corvette drivers.
The sports car effort includes a two-car Ford GT squad based in England that competes in the World Endurance Championship, where Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke lead the points standings with five races remaining, including an upcoming appearance at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
If nothing else, it will be an interesting run to the various championships for the Ganassi team. There is only one other American team owner, Roger Penske, who has as many different teams running in major series, including Sprint Cup, Xfinity, IndyCar and the Australian Supercars Championship.
Alas, Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are leading the IndyCar championship and Penske's two Sprint Cup drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, are race winners headed for the Chase, where they are expected to be contenders.
By that standard, Ganassi, shut out in the Indy 500, is currently hanging his hat on one race victory in France, albeit a great one.