The choice of who to replace Kyle Larson at Chip Ganassi Racing this season seems an obvious one. But then again, maybe it's not, as JIM UTTER explains.
Ross Chastain is a clear favourite to take over the No. 42 Chevrolet once real racing resumes after CGR fired Larson on Tuesday for the use of a racial slur during the live-stream of a virtual racing event.
Chastain, 27, is technically already under contract with Ganassi and was slated to contest the full Cup series this year with Ganassi partner team Spire Motorsports, but has been on loan to Roush Fenway Racing filling in for Ryan Newman while he continues to recover from a head injury suffered in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Considering the circumstances, it would probably not be difficult for Ganassi to pull Chastain back into his organisation and take over the No. 42 ride - an opportunity that Ganassi appears to have been grooming Chastain for over the last several years, having run him to a first win in the second-tier Xfinity Series at Las Vegas in 2018.
- Kyle Larson loses his drive
- Larson loses Ganassi NASCAR Cup drive after using racial slur
- Kyle Larson issues apology after suspension by NASCAR for racial slur
- NASCAR investigating Larson for using racial slur during virtual race
Although it would disrupt the continuity of having one driver, Roush would likely have little trouble finding another stand-in for Newman until he is cleared to return to competition.
There is also plenty of time as real racing is unlikely to start again before late May, at the earliest. A vast majority of states remain under stay-at-home orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a successful history already at Ganassi, Chastain seems the obvious answer to take over for Larson, and he very well could.
However, in the last 24 hours, another also-obvious choice has emerged that would allow Ganassi to complete the remainder of the 2020 season and allow Chastain to fill out his season at Roush. That driver? Jamie McMurray (below, left, with Chastain).
McMurray, 43, left Chip Ganassi Racing and fulltime NASCAR competition following the 2018 season and now works as a Fox Sports TV analyst.
He spent the vast majority of his 16-plus year Cup Series career driving for Ganassi, making his Cup series debut with the team in 2002 and returning in 2010 after four seasons at Roush.
McMurray scored five of his seven Cup series victories with the team, including a shock win only his second Cup series start at Charlotte in 2002, and became one of only three drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season in 2010.
But there is perhaps an even more important reason McMurray would be an excellent fit to fill in for the remainder of 2020.
He has an established relationship with all three of the main primary sponsors on the No. 42 - First Data, Credit One and McDonald's.
In fact, before they became Larson's sponsors, they were McMurray's while he drove the No. 1 Chevrolet.
They ended up moving to Larson's car once Target ended its sponsorship of the No. 42 following the 2017 season and sponsor DC Solar filed for bankruptcy in 2019.
So who better to guide Larson's sponsors through a tumultuous situation and help convince them to remain with the organisation than a driver with which they already enjoyed a successful working relationship?
But is this a plausible scenario?
Multiple sources have confirmed to Autosport that McMurray would consider the fill-in role for 2020 if Ganassi thought it would help retain sponsorship for the organisation and if it allowed him to keep his TV commitments.
As of Tuesday afternoon, McMurray had spoken to several members of the Ganassi organisation but had not yet been asked directly by Ganassi if he were interested in the role, sources said.
Due to the incident involved and the economic fallout of the pandemic, there's no question maintaining sponsor commitments will be a priority for Ganassi and the No. 42 team the remainder of this season.
Both Chastain and McMurray would serve the sponsors well, but the "safe" choice for sponsors - at least for now - may not necessarily be the obvious one.