Monday, February 12, 2018

2018 team preview: Chip Ganassi Racing


Manufacturer: Chevrolet
Engine: Hendrick Motorsports
Drivers Kyle Larson, No. 42; Jamie McMurray, No. 1
Crew chiefs: Chad Johnston (Larson), Matt McCall (McMurray)
2017 standings: Larson, 8th in final standings (eliminated in Round of 12); McMurray, 12th in final standings (eliminated in Round of 12)
What’s new: Expanded sponsorship with both Credit One and DC Solar means the paint schemes on the No. 42 Chevrolet of Kyle Larson will look a little different this year, but much of CGR remains the same after a banner season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. McMurray is the fourth-longest tenured driver with a single team at NASCAR’s top level, and Larson enters his fifth full-time season driving for Ganassi. CGR has become one of the most stable operations in the garage.
What to watch: Kyle Larson’s mental strength. A banner season in which he emerged as a title contender ended abruptly in the playoffs with four consecutive DNFs, leaving Larson looking desolate and inconsolable in November.
Key question(s): Can Larson bounce back early in the season following a disappointing end to 2017? Can the team get a touch faster at 1.5-mile tracks, where Larson has yet to win? How can Jamie McMurray continue making small gains throughout the season to become a postseason threat?


Kyle Larson, No. 42 Credit One Chevrolet: In 2017, Larson evolved from “That guy with loads of potential” to “That super talented guy who is winning races and is a title contender.” His ascension into the upper echelon in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series came quickly.
Now, to build.
Larson, 25, proved himself to be the best in the series on wide 2-mile tracks, sweeping both Michigan races and prevailing at Auto Club. He also won the regular-season finale at Richmond to set up what appeared to be a championship push, before ending the year with four DNFs in the final five races. He and crew chief Chad Johnston enter their third year together after making big strides in ’17. There may not be a more intriguing story to start the season than how quickly Larson gets back to form.
Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet:  McMurray has been a model of consistency for Chip Ganassi over the years, a trend that ticked upward in 2017. McMurray again qualified for the postseason, but for the first time under the current format, he advanced out of the Round of 16.
That’s reason for optimism, like the increase of top-10 finishes to 17 last year … his most in a single season since 2004. His average finish of 14.6 also was his best since 2004. Still, room for growth remains as crew chief Matt McCall and company continue to dig to match the pace of the No. 42.
“Matt’s work ethic is as good as it could be,” McMurray said. “You can’t find anybody that is willing to put more time and effort and 100 percent of their focus into making your car faster. And he has kind of instilled that in all the guys that work on our team. … Matt’s done an awesome job of putting together an amazing group of guys.”

Swedes, Swiss both make QF

Most teams can’t come back after trailing by four goals after 20 minutes. The unified Korean women’s team was no exception, falling 8-0 to Sweden on Monday.

The result puts both Sweden and Switzerland into Saturday’s quarter-finals. The Swedes are questing for their first Olympic medal since 2006’s silver. Outmatched if valiant Korea remains pointless through two games in its Winter Games debut.

"The biggest thing you can do is to win an Olympic medal, so that would be an amazing feeling to do that again," said Swedish assistant captain Pernilla Winberg. "But we're here to take it one game at a time."
Contrasting with Korea’s previous 8-0 loss to Switzerland, where the one-woman wrecking machine named Alina Muller tied single-game Olympic records with four goals and six points, the Swedes got scoring throughout the lineup.
Winberg led the way with two goals and an assist, and Elin Lundberg added a goal and two assists. Emma Nordin notched a goal and two helpers. Maja Nylen Persson, Johanna Fallman, Erika Uden Johansson, and Rebecca Stenberg also scored for Sweden. Fanny Rask, Erica Grahm, and Emmy Alasalmi had two assists apiece.

Swedish goalie Sara Grahn had a far easier evening than Korean starter So Jung Shin. Grahn registered her first career Olympic shutout as shots favored Sweden 50-19.

Forward Jiyeon Choi, who had one of Korea's best chances, said: "If I had scored, it could have made a big difference to our team. An 8-1 score is much better than 8-0 for us. If I had scored, it would have inspired our team to play even better."
A Korean proverb says: “At the end of hardship comes happiness.” Awaiting their last Group B game against winless Japan on Wednesday, the goalless hosts must hope that’s true. Sweden faces the Swiss in a showdown for first place in Group B that day.

"We definitely want to beat Japan," said Jiyeon Choi. "There are two big reasons. One, we've never beaten them before, so if we can beat them at the Olympics, it will be our biggest victory ever for the Korean people. Second, Japan and Korea have a complicated history, so a win would have special meaning for our people."
It was another fantastically animated atmosphere at the Kwandong Hockey Centre with screams of anticipation from the crowd of 4,244 each time coach Sarah Murray’s team touched the puck. Murray made one roster change, substituting North Korean forward Song Hui Ryo in place of Su Hyon Jong, who carried the Olympic torch with captain Jongah Park at Friday’s spectacular opening ceremonies.
The squads of North Korean cheerleaders were in perfect sync again. Unfortunately the Korean penalty killers couldn’t say the same on the opening goal. One youngster’s pain was another gain.
At 3:42, the 16-year-old forward Heewon Kim – Korea’s youngest player – was sent off for roughing after a goalmouth scrum. It took just 18 seconds for the 17-year-old defender Nylen Persson – Sweden’s youngest player – to get the puck from Alasalmi and beat So Jung Shin with a low shot inside the goalie’s right post.

"It was a good crowd out there, and it was cool to see how people were cheering them on, but I think we did a good job and worked every shift really hard," said Winberg.
The Damkronorna kept coming. A couple of minutes later, Sabina Kuller waltzed in over the Korean blue line and knifed a backhand off the cross bar. At 9:47, Lundberg made it 2-0 with a slap shot that squeezed under the goalie’s arm and over the line.
Thirty seconds later, Sweden grabbed a 3-0 lead. Rask circled the net and centered a backhand pass to Fallman, whose hard one-timer found the twine.
The Koreans got a bona fide chance when Jingyu Lee came down the right side on a 2-on-1 to unleash a high zinger, but Grahn’s glove said no. Moments later, in a classic case of tit for tat, a Swedish 2-on-1 saw Lisa Johansson sending the puck across to Erika Uden Johansson, who banged in her own rebound for the fourth goal at 17:04.
In the second period, Winberg, who tied for the 2014 Olympic scoring lead with Finland’s Michelle Karvinen (seven points), stormed over the blue line and beat So Jung Shin with a nice forehand move to make it 5-0 at 4:08.
Korea generated pressure during two subsequent power plays, but couldn’t deliver any results beyond more screams from the crowd.

"They had some good PP there," said Winberg. "They had a couple of good shots. Our goalie played really well."

Sweden went up 6-0 at 1:09 of the third period when Nordin tipped in Lundberg's high point shot. At 1:45, Winberg pivoted in the faceoff circle and her shot was accidentally deflected in by Korea's Randi Heesoo Griffin. It was just that kind of night for the representatives of the Land of the Morning Calm.

On the rush, Stenberg converted Winberg's beautiful cross-ice feed at 5:34 to round out the scoring at 8-0. A Swedish proverb says: "Attack is the best defence." It was hard to argue with that here.

"I think the teams that have the best chemistry and team spirit are going to win the medals," said Winberg. "We have a lot of fun together off the rink and on the ice. Everyone likes each other, so I think that's what makes us strong together as a team."

Swiss on brink of QF

Two power play goals from Sara Benz - and a fifth of the Games for Alina Muller - lifted Switzerland to victory over Japan in its second game in Korea. 

Sara Benz led the way for Switzerland with two goals in a 3-1 victory over Japan, and the 2014 bronze medallist is now all but certain to progress to the quarter-finals.

It was a special moment for Benz, a 25-year-old forward with Zurich Lions: she missed the last two seasons with concussion problems, and has only returned to Swiss league action this term. Twenty points in 14 games got her back into the international set-up in time for the Olympics, and after three assists against Korea she relished her decisive double blast in this game. 
But the Swiss had to hold off a lively Japanese team that had the better of the first period and could have pulled off a surprise victory with greater composure in front of Florence Schelling's net.
After a narrow loss to Sweden in Saturday’s opening game, Japan knew that three points would be vital if it wasn’t to rely on an improbable sequence of results to sneak into the last eight. For a team that had never won a game at an Olympic tournament, that was already a tall order; making matters worse, Rui Ukita, scorer of Japan’s only goal against Sweden, served a one-game ban.
At the start, though, Japan was dominant. Switzerland, so devastating on offence two days earlier, struggled to generate opportunities and Nana Fujimoto was a virtual spectator as she faced just one shot in the opening frame. Japan, ever mobile, caused problems at the other end; swift skating and pacey puck movement had the Swiss defence chasing shadows at times, but the Asian team lacked the finishing to match its approach play.
"We didn't get the start we wanted," said Akane Hosoyamada. "I know we only gave them one shot and we got seven, but we didn't get any rebounds, we didn't get any screens or tips. We weren't as agressive as we needed to be."
The Japanese had a golden chance to open the scoring midway through the opening frame with 97 seconds of 5-on-3 power play. But Switzerland survived, helped by Shoko Ono’s failure to connect with Hanuna Yoneyama’s feed from the doorstep and Schelling’s anticipation when Hanae Kubo tried taking her time to psyche out the goalie, only for the shot to bounce to safety off the upper arm.
"Oh my God!" Schelling exclaimed. "I think that was the game-changer. That was the key. The game would have looked a lot different if they had got on the scoreboard first."
Kubo, whose pace, direct play was a persistent threat, had another great chance when the teams were back to equal strength. Some great stick-handling saw her dance through the Swiss defence, with Phoebe Staenz left trailing in her wake. This time, though, the shot looped over the bar without  testing the Swiss goalie.
Schelling had to be on her mettle as the first session came to a close, with a smart reaction save late on to ensure that she completed her fourth period of the competition without allowing a goal.
"We were kind of overwhelmed in that first period by how fast they were, how strong they were," Schelling added. "But then in the second period we were able to score and bring our momentum to the game."
If Japan had grounds for optimism at the first intermission, there was also cause for concern. A penalty late in the first period ensured the Swiss would be begin the next frame on the power play, and that was enough to tip the momentum away from Takeshi Yamanaka’s team. Dominique Roegg tested Fujimoto early on and the Swiss attack awakened at last. Japan fashioned one more neat chance when Haruka Toko’s no-look pass found Ami Nakamura, but her attempt to spin and release a backhand shot failed to test Schelling.
Switzerland punished that miss almost immediately when Sara Benz got the first of two power play goals. Ruegg’s wild shot came back off the boards, and Benz was first to react as she squeezed wrister onto the top shelf from an acute angle with Fujimoto left stranded. Another penalty soon followed, and Christine Meier showed great vision to set Benz behind the Japanese defence with a superb pass; Benz delivered an emphatic finish, and Japan’s goal-shy roster was always likely to struggle from that point on.
Switzerland added a third goal early in the final session when Alina Muller – the leading scorer in the women’s tournament so far after a six-point haul against Korea – intercepted a loose pass in her own zone and raced up the ice before firing past Fujimoto from the right-hand face-off spot.
But Japan finally got the goal its efforts deserved with 12 minutes to play when the hard-working Kubo became the first player to score on Schelling at this year's Games. Kubo's touch looped Mika Hori's shot beyond the reach of the Swiss goalie, denying her the outright record for shut-outs in Olympic play. Schelling is currently tied with Canada's three-time gold medallist Kim St-Pierre on four shut-outs apiece.
Switzerland's win means that the Group B picture could be almost wrapped up after tonight's game between Sweden and Korea. A Swedish victory would ensure that the two European nations will progress to quarter-final match-ups against the teams finishing third and fourth in Group A, while the Asian countries will go directly to the classification round.