Connect with us

NASCAR Cup Series

The Road Towards the Top of the Mountain for Chastain and Trackhouse Racing

Ross Chastain looks to bring Trackhouse Racing a championship in just their second season (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

AVONDALE, Ariz. – At this time last year at Phoenix Raceway, Chip Ganassi Racing was preparing for their final start in NASCAR before its assets went to Trackhouse Racing, who were wrapping up their first season in the Cup Series.

For Ross Chastain, he knew that he would drive for Trackhouse’s second car as the deal was confirmed last August. Once the next racing chapter commenced, Chastain wasn’t alone.

His crew chief Phil Surgen made the jump from Ganassi to Trackhouse, looking to strengthen the Justin Marks and Pitbull co-owned entity.

Fast forward to this weekend, Chastain and Surgen have strengthened Trackhouse and then some.

“We don’t have to get bogged down during the week with naysayers and people within the company that don’t believe,” said Surgen.

“We get to focus solely on our goals of bringing the best race cars to the track every weekend, winning races. That’s across the board, whether it’s pit crew, shop mechanics, management, road crews. That’s refreshing.”

With this year’s NASCAR Championship Weekend in the corner, once thing is certain.

The No. 1 squad were able to strengthen the entire organization and more.

A Season of Fate and Success

Chastain scored two wins at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega Superspeedway. Each showcased Chastain’s tenacity of wanting to make his name known in the sport’s top level.

Although Chastain was a consistent top finisher this season, his incidents dominated the talks amongst the press and fans alike.

Garnering a reputation of being an overly aggressive driver has rubbed his competitors the wrong way all season.

Come hell or high water, Chastain will not back down as seen during his episodes with Denny Hamlin to the point that he may have had a target on his back throughout the Playoffs.

In a unique twist of fate, Chastain and Hamlin put it on the line during last Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

In the end, Chastain’s relentless put Trackhouse Racing into the big dance this weekend following the “video game” move seen around the world at Martinsville Speedway.

Not since arguably Richie Evans literally wall climbing his way to a win over Geoff Bodine in 1981 have fans been speechless over a race finish in the sport’s oldest active circuit.

Chastain has etched his name forever in NASCAR history thanks to the days of playing NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup on GameCube.

Folks like two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso and former NFL kicker turned media mogul Pat McAfee were blown away.

Chastain finessed racing logic by going full throttle at Martinsville to go from 10th to fifth, later fourth following the disqualification of Brad Keselowski, shattering the fastest lap at the 0.526-mile track in a Cup car.

That made the difference of Chastain battling for the Bill France Trophy while Hamlin will have to wait until next season.

Chastain and Denny Hamlin battling hard as always last Sunday at Martinsville (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish).

“It’s wild because I can get excited for what we’ve accomplished and scared to death about what we’ve accomplished. It’s so cool that I’m getting to experience this. I’m so lucky and blessed to get to feel this for a race. It’s all for a race on Sunday, one afternoon,” Chastain observed on the notoriety he’s received.

“Yeah, I have taken some time to look, but obviously it’s been full focus on Phoenix and prep. It’s just another race, so it’s just like any other week. For better or worse, you’ve got to turn it off. You have to turn it off at some point. That got turned off.

“But you can’t open social media without seeing it. It’s like, ‘Dang it. I just want to see what these guys are saying today’ and I still see my stuff popping up. We’re just living in the moment, though.”

Making Your Mark

Going into the finale, Chastain and the entire No. 1 team are eager to fight amongst the sport’s three goliaths – Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Far from the underdogs, co-owner Justin Marks, a former Ganassi driver and race winner, said nothing has changed since the season began.

However, being a part of something special has been humbling for the 41-year-old owner.

This year’s title fight has been the cultivation of hard work and a strong support system across the board all done in such a short period of time.

“It’s incredibly humbling. To be in this spot right now, I can’t help but be very reflective of my journey as a race fan and then as a driver and then as an owner,” said Marks during Tuesday’s media session involving the four race teams.

“It’s very, very surreal and humbling to be in this spot, especially for Trackhouse to be competing with true legends of the sport this weekend in Phoenix chasing glory.

“At the end of the day, I think the overwhelming emotion that I have is just how proud I am of everybody at this company, how much everybody is committed to this vision, believed that this was possible, and have worked every hour of every day since this place turned into Trackhouse Racing with the belief in that vision and chasing it,” Marks continued.

“To be able to reward the workforce for all their hard work and their belief with an opportunity to win a championship is kind of the dominating story line of the day here.”

Long Promised Road

Chastain storming around Phoenix during Friday practice (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Should Chastain hoist the Bill France Trophy, it will be the cultivation of years of highs and lows for the Floridian.

At one point, Chastain had a deal with Ganassi in the Xfinity Series for 2019 until the fallout of DC Solar led to the program shutting down.

Chastain wound up racing for JD Motorsports until declaring for the Truck Series title mid-season for Niece Motorsports.

During all that, Chastain was also driving for Premium Motorsports where often he brought the No. 15 Chevrolet home inside the top-30 on a regular basis. Thus, the “Melon Man Challenge” was born but the 2019 tour ended in heartbreak when he lost the Truck Series title to a winless Matt Crafton.

Following a disappointing 2020 Xfinity Series season at Kaulig Racing where he failed to make the Championship 4, Chastain returned to Ganassi’s empire in Cup a year later.

At the end of the day, through thick and thin, Chastain has defied the odds in NASCAR.

During Media Day, it was nothing but gratitude knowing the position he is in come Sunday.

“Just realizing the journey, thinking back to starting parking at Gateway in 2018, announcing a full-time season out here in Phoenix, to never actually race that car again, and the team get shut down,” Chastain explained.

“Just remembering some of those moments when I kind of thought everything was done and over with. Now realizing if I can just go back and tell myself that it’s going to be okay. I don’t think I would have believed myself.

“A lot of gratitude this week. Some nerves. Look, this is wild, this is big. It’s just another race, but I feel it. I love that I feel it because I’m getting to experience this. I’m going to remember these moments.

“They’re not pleasant in the exact second and minute to be feeling like you want to throw up, to feel like you have so much anxiety, you’re not doing what you need to be doing to prep.

“But experiencing Media Day and feeling the nerves of this is so cool. I feel so fortunate that I get to feel it.”

Chastain speaking with the press on Media Day (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

The McReynolds Wrap

In many ways, this weekend’s title fight has connections to the sport’s magnum opus of title fights that transpired 30 years ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Another key figure to Chastain’s quest for the title is his spotter Brandon McReynolds, son of Larry McReynolds.

Larry McReynolds called the shots for championship leader Davey Allison in a year that saw the No. 28 Robert Yates Racing Ford either win or crash.

As the old saying goes, the rest was history as Allison was involved in a Turn 4 crash with Ernie Irvan, ending a bizarre campaign.

The honor went to Alan Kulwicki, who beat Bill Elliott by 10 points. Bill’s son, Chase Elliott, is among three drivers Chastain must beat to solidify an unforgettable season.

Chastain spoke highly of Brandon McReynolds and how they have come so far from being intense competitors to now working together.

Above everything else, just getting to be a part of something special where Chastain feels like he is doing things with the people he values most.

“The McReynolds are a legacy family in this sport. What’s so cool is that I just got to know Brandon as a buddy and a competitor really,” said Chastain. “We were just competitors on track. I’ve wrecked him pretty bad actually, not on purpose, but I cut his tire down at Iowa. Growing through that over the years, like he still owes me one. But we’re buddies and friends now.

“We’ve buried the hatchet on all that. It’s just cool to get to do it with the people I want to do it with. A lot of people last year thought we were wild, that Chip hired a rookie crew chief, driver, and spotter all for the 42.

“Justin kept us all together. We’ve never been in position to win races. But getting to do it with my group, both at Trackhouse, keeping my group together. Then also on the backside of business and my group that I go to day in and day out to keep me accountable. Pump me up when they want to or peel me down when they want to.

“Getting to do it with my group, it means more to see their faces when I get out after Martinsville, see how excited they are.”

Ross Chastain heading towards the track (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish).

Time will tell how the final chapter to their unforgettable season will unfold but come Sunday – the No. 1 team hopes they are the ones shining bright. Coverage of the Cup Series Championship Race begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC.

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content. With two National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. Not only that, expect my social media filled with references nobody will understand, especially Licorice Pizza.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in NASCAR Cup Series