NASCAR: What Bubba Wallace’s Ganassi offer says beneath the surface

The fact that Bubba Wallace has been offered a contract by Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is significant in more ways than one.

Bubba Wallace has become one of the most talked about drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series over the course of this year, and with him being a pending free agent after signing a two-year contract extension back in August of 2018, that has led to quite a bit of recent Silly Season speculation.

Will he be back for a fourth season behind the wheel of the #43 Chevrolet next year at Richard Petty Motorsports, a team in which he has held an ownership stake since last year, or will he move on to a new opportunity?

One potential landing spot has been rumored as Chip Ganassi Racing, with their #42 Chevrolet set to have an open seat next year.

The #42 Chevrolet already has several primary sponsors lined up, and one of those primary sponsors, McDonald’s, is one with which the 26-year-old Mobile, Alabama native already has a relationship.

Now we know that this is more than just a rumor, as Wallace confirmed to NBC Sports over the weekend that Chip Ganassi has made him an offer to drive the #42 Chevrolet in 2021. Aside of the fact that he appears to be set to return to the Cup Series in 2021 regardless of where he ends up, the biggest takeaway from this news is the fact that Ross Chastain doesn’t appear to be the main candidate in line to replace Kenseth, like many fans once thought.

When Kyle Larson was fired abruptly in April following his use of a racial slur during a virtual NASCAR event on iRacing, it was believed that Chastain would be picked as his replacement.

The 27-year-old Alva, Florida native had competed in the season’s first four races at the time, including the season-opening Daytona 500 for a Chip Ganassi Racing-supported Spire Motorsports team and the next three as the replacement for the injured Ryan Newman at Roush Fenway Racing, and he has ties to the team that go back several years.

He was slated to have competed full-time for the Chip Ganassi Racing Xfinity Series team in 2019 before a sponsorship debacle caused those plans to fall through.

He initially landed this ride after running an impressive three-race stint for the team in late 2018, which included a dominant effort that unfortunately resulted in a late wreck at Darlington Raceway, a dominant win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a second place finish at Richmond Raceway.

To the surprise of pretty much everybody in the NASCAR world, it was the 48-year-old twice-retired Matt Kenseth who got the call to fill in behind the wheel of the #42 Chevrolet for the rest of the 2020 season.

Ganassi reiterated that he still “has a plan” for Chastain after making the shocking decision to sign Kenseth as Larson’s replacement.

So the fact that Wallace has reportedly been offered a deal by Chip Ganassi Racing, meaning he could presumably be in line to drive the #42 Chevrolet next year at any moment, came as quite a surprise.

Could Ganassi’s plan be to save Chastain for when Kurt Busch vacates the #1 Chevrolet, which isn’t set to happen until 2022 at the earliest?

Is his plan to move him to a Cup Series ride outside of the organization on loan so he can gain more experience at the sport’s highest level after what was a semi-underwhelming stint while on loan at Roush Fenway Racing back in February and March?

With Wallace being the most likely replacement candidate for Kenseth, his departure from Richard Petty Motorsports could then open up a seat for Chastain.

But could Chastain end up taking a separate opportunity and leave Ganassi’s organization?

Notably, the #48 Chevrolet is still without a driver for next year, and Chastain has sponsorship from Nutrien Ag Solutions if Hendrick Motorsports move Alex Bowman from his current #88 Chevrolet over to the Ally Financial-funded #48 team. There are several other rides without confirmed drivers for next year, including two at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Of course, Wallace could ultimately turn down Ganassi’s offer, and then this point would be moot, assuming the team don’t end up hiring somebody else to replace Kenseth such as Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones or Front Row Motorsports rookie John Hunter Nemechek.

But regardless, things don’t look as clear as they once did in terms of Ross Chastain’s outlook at Chip Ganassi Racing, at least from the outside. Will he end up competing for their Cup Series team in the near future after all?