NASCAR: Bubba Wallace to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021?

Chip Ganassi Racing has emerged as a potential landing spot for pending free agent Bubba Wallace for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Bubba Wallace is one of many active NASCAR Cup Series drivers who does not currently have a deal lined up to compete in the 2021 season, and with the 2020 season having just passed its halfway mark, now is the time to focus on those pending free agents.

Wallace has driven for Richard Petty Motorsports since 2017, when he stepped in for the injured Aric Almirola for four races behind the wheel of the #43 Ford. He took over as the full-time driver of the #43 Chevrolet in 2018 after Almirola replaced Danica Patrick behind the wheel of the #10 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The 26-year-old Mobile, Alabama native was initially with the team on a one-year deal, but he extended his contract by two seasons that August through 2020.

The team nearly didn’t finish the 2019 season due to financial struggles, but they were aided when World Wide Technology stepped in and formed a strategic partnership with them and Victory Junction.

There is no guarantee that Wallace, who has become one of the sport’s most talked about drivers this season, will be back with Richard Petty Motorsports next year, particularly given that somebody may effectively outbid him for his seat.

While a return remains an option, another option has recently emerged. Whether he is released or  decides on his own to look elsewhere for a ride, Chip Ganassi Racing could be a factor.

The #42 Chevrolet is without a driver under contract for next year and already has several sponsorship deals lined up. Most notably, like Wallace, Chip Ganassi Racing have a relationship with McDonald’s as a primary sponsor.

Interestingly, this was an option that had been floated before this report from Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern, given Wallace’s status as a pending free agent, the status of the #42 Chevrolet and what Wallace has managed to do this year.

Matt Kenseth, who replaced Larson after four races this season when Chip Ganassi Racing cut ties with him due to the sponsors he lost for using a racial slur, is clearly not a long-term option at 48 years old.

Yes, the 2003 champion did almost win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month when he finished behind only Kevin Harvick, but he is the oldest driver in the field by more than three and a half years and has no other finishes higher than 10th place in his 15 starts this year. He is well past his prime.

While Chip Ganassi has said that he has a plan for Ross Chastain, who many believed would be Larson’s replacement this year after his release, there was no timetable given, meaning that plan may not involve 2021. Notably, Kurt Busch’s contract expires after 2021, so the #1 Chevrolet may be open for 2022 anyway.

It’s also hard to ignore John Hunter Nemechek, the rookie who has done a solid job competing for Front Row Motorsports this year. Like Chastain, he also has ties to Chip Ganassi Racing from years past.

But what Wallace has been able to do this year alone has been impressive, especially given how disappointing his first two seasons were and the fact that he almost didn’t get to finish out last year, and is well worth mentioning when it comes to potentially landing what would be the best opportunity of his racing career.

After two consecutive finishes of 28th place in the championship standings, Wallace sits in 20th with seven regular season races remaining and has been a regular inside the top 20 this year, something that would have been considered a pipe dream in 2018 or 2019. His average finish is 19.8 after it was 24.5 in 2018 and 23.9 in 2019.

If he is to land a ride with one of the sport’s better and more funded teams, 2021 is set up to be the year for him to do it, and if it happens, don’t be surprised if he ends up driving for Ganassi’s team alongside the 2004 champion.