Checkered flag waves on CGR's NASCAR run at Phoenix finale

Rusty Jarrett/Motorsport Images

Checkered flag waves on CGR's NASCAR run at Phoenix finale

NASCAR

Checkered flag waves on CGR's NASCAR run at Phoenix finale

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Chip Ganassi Racing takes its final checkered flag in NASCAR on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, and Kurt Busch said the word ‘heavy’ is the emotion around the organization.

“(It’s) a good word to use with everything that’s gone on at Ganassi Racing this year,” said Busch after qualifying fifth for the Cup Series season finale. “And for us to stick together and have gone this far through the playoffs and been in contention running for top-five; it’s one of those moments in time. You’ll always remember how you put an effort together, and everybody had to dig pretty dig to make it to the end of ’21.”

Busch and Ross Chastain will go down as the final two drivers for Ganassi as he shutters his program after this weekend. Ganassi sold his two charters and assets to Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing when Marks came calling earlier this year with an offer Ganassi couldn’t refuse. It ends a two-decade run for Ganassi in stock cars.

A former series champion, Busch joined the organization in 2019 and has won three races driving the No. 1 Chevrolet. He made the playoffs in all three seasons. Eliminated from the playoffs in the Round of 16, Busch goes into the finale sitting 11th in the standings.

At the team shop in Concord, North Carolina, there was a final team lunch with Ganassi in attendance earlier this week. Chastain said it wasn’t as emotional as some might think, as it was more of a send-off for employees onto the next chapter in their careers.

“We’re just focused on the race cars,” said Chastain, who qualified 16th. “It was the final lunch at the shop, and then when y’all bring it up, it’s like, well, dang, it is kind of sad.”

Chastain inherited the No. 42 Chevrolet this season but had been tied to Ganassi for a few years and seeking an opportunity. Ganassi’s been a big proponent of Chastain since seeing what he could do in the Xfinity Series, and Ganassi gave Chastain a three-race deal in 2018 that Chastain turned into a win at Las Vegas.

Named to a full-time Xfinity Series ride with Ganassi for 2019, the team never made it to Daytona. Sponsor DC Solar pulled out of the deal after coming under investigation for what turned out to be a $1 billion Ponzi scheme. Fortunately, Chastain didn’t lack opportunity in either series and became the new driver of the No. 42 coming into this season.

Chastain said he and Ganassi have reflected, but it hasn’t been somber.

“It’s crazy,” said Chastain. “three years ago, he didn’t know who I was, and I drove his race car the first time. Then he kept me on when he didn’t have to; he changed my career, and my life changed trajectories, and he made sure that it stayed on that trajectory. Then every day since then at the shop (was) working behind the scenes to be hopefully the driver of one of his race cars one day, and we got there this year.

“I’ll never be able to thank him because he won’t be around anymore in NASCAR, but (I may) get a wild hair one day and go race one of his other race cars. Maybe I can get back together with him.”

Busch and Ganassi got together a few weeks ago for lunch, and Busch wound up with a keepsake.

“He handed me this framed photo that I’d put on a marker board on my first trip to Pittsburgh,” said Busch. “It was this drawing of these things that I was trying to dream up for cooling. I said, there’s got to be somebody on the IndyCar side that can help us on the stock car side with this cooling project. He saved that markerboard drawing, framed it, and said, ‘Thanks, Kurt, for always being a leader that you have been for Chip Ganassi Racing.’ It was a cool moment with Chip.”

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