With two races remaining to determine the champions in NASCAR’s three top tours, there’s one contest that’s been under the radar—the Xfinity Series owner’s title.
No, it might not be in the headlines as frequently the driver’s titles in the Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. But with three teams - Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing - separated by just eight points, there’s not a tighter battle heading in the Championship 4 weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway.
At the helm of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team is crew chief Mike Shiplett. This season, Shiplett, 45, guided three different drivers to Victory Lane, including first-time winners Tyler Reddick and Alex Bowman. At Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2016, Shiplett led Justin Marks to his first victory in the NXS. In the last two seasons, his four drivers have won eight times.
It’s a role that Shiplett has been preparing for since he was first hired at Evernham Motorsports in 2007 to run what then their Busch Series program, with eight different drivers. The Amherst, Ohio, native experienced similar situations throughout his Cup tenure.
In 2015, Shiplett began working with Kyle Larson through Ganassi’s technical alliance at HScott Motorsports before moving in-house. The consistency of working with the same core group has escalated the level of performance considerably for the No. 42 NXS team.
“We keep building everything one step at a time, making everything a little bit better each week,” Shiplett said. “They just tell me who’s driving, and I get it done. We've been very fortunate with our great driver lineup this year.”
Larson has won three of the five races this season for CGR’s NXS effort. Reddick has done the heavy lifting with 17 of 32 starts. And Bowman, who won his first Xfinity race in his first start in the No. 42 Chevy, returns to the seat this weekend with the team.
“For most of the year, we’ve had Tyler Reddick in the car,” Shiplett said. “I’ve had a game plan that I wanted to work on with him leading up these seven (Playoff) races. I knew he would be a part of it, so we focused on that area during the summer. We were fortunate to get the wins early with Kyle, so we knew we were going to be in and could prepare with Tyler for this part of the year.
“Then Alex came along, and he had a ton of experience—that was just a plus. We didn’t have to teach him things about Xfinity cars. He already knew how to perform at that level. It was just a natural fit for someone with Alex’s talent to jump in. It proves how well we can build our cars here.”
Last month at Kansas Speedway, Ganassi Racing displayed the gains the team has made in single-car speed with Reddick capturing the pole. He then finished second in the race. Reddick will return to the seat for the season finale at Homestead.
On Saturday, Larson was solid at Texas Motor Speedway until a pit road penalty mired the No. 42 Chevy in traffic. Still, he salvaged a third-place finish. And although Bowman has yet to post a top-10 finish at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series, last year in Cup he won the pole and led 194 of 324 circuits before finishing sixth at his home track.
Shiplett is encouraged entering the final two races of the year. The No. 42 team is 13 points ahead of the fourth-place No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing entry and 39 ahead of the fifth-place JR Motorsports No. 1 team.
“We have speed in the cars; we just need the drivers to get it out every week,” Shiplett said. “We’re focused on Homestead right now. We're just controlling everything we can control and see how these next two races play out for us.”