Road to Richmond

March 31, 2023

The first six races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule have been filled with a large degree of chaos as the series heads to the first short track race of the season – Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

Although the new aerodynamic package designed for short oval races was first used at Phoenix Raceway in the March 12 United Rentals Work United 500, this will be NASCAR’s first race of the season on a track that is under one mile in length.

The February 5 Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum in Los Angeles is the shortest track the teams have competed on, but it is not part of the regular NASCAR Cup Series championship schedule and stands alone as a “special” race.

When Trackhouse drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez compete on the .75-mile track in the capital city of the Commonwealth of Virginia, it will be 400-laps and 300-miles of old fashioned, short track action.

“We are running a little bit different package this weekend compared to Richmond last year,” said Chastain, who will drive the No. 1 Jockey Made in America Collection Chevrolet Camaro at Richmond this weekend. “It will be our second short track this season, so I'll be curious to see how everything shakes out. I've been working in the simulator and my guys have been working hard on the set up. We'll have a short time for practice and hopefully we qualify well which is huge.

“I qualified second at Richmond last fall which is big because it doesn't take cars long to go a lap down there under green flag.”

Chastain enters this weekend’s race as the NASCAR Cup Series leader.

He gained two positions in last Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas with a hard-fought, fourth-place finish.

This came after he got punted way back in the field during an overtime restart.

Chastain leads the standings by 19 points over Kyle Busch of Richard Childress Racing and 25 points over defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano of Team Penske and Kevin Harvick of Stewart Haas Racing.

Chastain also has three Stage Wins this season, the only driver with more is Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron with four.

He gained two positions in last Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas with a hard-fought, fourth-place finish.

This came after he got punted way back in the field during an overtime restart.

“Having the point lead is nice and obviously means we are doing something right,” Chastain said. “But it is such a long season, and you can't rest on that because every week, every driver and team are getting better and better. I've certainly come a long way in my career where I dreamed of running well.

“Having the points lead is a good morale booster for everyone at Trackhouse but it doesn't change the focus we have each week to do well.”

Trackhouse teammate Daniel Suarez is 14th in the standings, 67 out of the lead, but has shown flashes of competitive brilliance at times this season. He was another driver along with Chastain in contention for the COTA win before he was involved in one of the overtime restart skirmishes that dropped him to a 27th-place finish.

Following a breakout season in 2022 when Chastain finished just 235-feet behind Logano in the NASCAR Championship Race at Phoenix, the Watermelon Farmer from Alva, Florida continues to prove he is one of the best drivers behind the wheel of a stock car.

In typical fashion, Chastain credits his continued success in 2023 to his Trackhouse crew who prepare his No. 1 Chevrolet for every race.

Chastain is a firm believer that familiarity breeds success at Trackhouse.

“I’m so happy to have the same group of people around me for this season,” Chastain said. “It’s so hard in this sport to keep the same groups together whether it’s because someone wants a different travel schedule, they get another opportunity at another team, or they have some other reason.

“We are the exact same group, from crew chief, to engineers, to crew guys, the pit crew, truck drivers – I mean everyone is the same.

“That’s very valuable to have in this sport and it’s rare that it happens, so I think it’s very significant that we’ve been able to do that.”

During the offseason, Trackhouse owner Justin Marks and Trackhouse President Ty Norris were very careful to manage the expectation level for the team as it entered its third full season in NASCAR Cup Series action, and its second since purchasing Chip Ganassi Racing.

They didn’t want the team to fall victim to unrealistic expectations because the NASCAR Cup Series is a highly competitive venture.

But so far, Chastain has lived up to those high expectations, even without a victory yet in the very young season.

He avoided the late race calamity in the season-opening Daytona 500 on February 19 to finish ninth after starting the AdventHealth Chevrolet 23rd. The following week, Chastain drove the Kubota Chevrolet to a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in the final race on the 2.0-mile oval.

He led a race-high 91 laps at Fontana before Kyle Busch was able to take over at the end on a track that favors the car in clean air.

Chastain finished 12th at Las Vegas and 24th at Phoenix after he was involved in a celebrated incident in the final laps with Denny Hamlin. That driver was later penalized by NASCAR when he admitted he intentionally crashed Chastain.

“I’m just mentally moving forward and will do my part to keep my car off of his,” Chastain said after he spoke with Hamlin afterwards. “Rolling out for qualifying, we were nose to tail but that is set by the NASCAR metrics.

“Even the great metrics want us together,” Chastain quipped.

The following week at Atlanta, Chastain finished 13th after leading five laps before he kicked it back into high gear at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Both Chastain and Suarez ran in the top five for most of the race and both appeared to have race-winning strategies with fuel if the race had made it to the scheduled distance without a late-race caution.

The two cars in front of them, leader Tyler Reddick of 23X1 and second-place Byron, both had to conserve fuel and slow down their race pace. Chastain and Suarez were the next two drivers behind and appeared safe if the race finished under green.

Our course, that strategy was ruined when Brad Keselowski’s Ford stopped off course and NASCAR issued a caution with 12 laps to go.

It would take three overtimes before Reddick won the race, but the frantic final laps saw Chastain heroically overcome a lug nut issue on a pit stop and a crash during one of the previous restarts to drive through the field to a fourth-place finish.

Chastain has become one of NASCAR’s top drivers by being able to combine his keen racing instincts, while be willing to learn from others.

“I keep my circle pretty small, but I take advice from a lot of drivers,” Chastain said. “We’d be here too long if I listed all the past drivers and champions from advice. I take advance from a lot of people who don’t get asked a lot of questions.

“I’m always learning. I’m always evolving. I will always evolve as I wake up in the morning.”

At 30, Chastain is old enough to have experience, but young enough to have a bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.

That makes him a perfect fit at Trackhouse.

Chastain is another example of someone who wasn’t afraid to take a chance and have it pay off in a big way.

“It’s more than I ever dreamed of,” Chastain explained. “It’s wild to look at the path we’ve taken and the people that have believed in me along the way, the team owners that took my deals on short money, no money. It’s pretty impossible to plan out a path to NASCAR.

“There was never a plan. It was just get to the next race. Early on, it was finding the funding to do that personally. There was a lot of sacrifice from people along that wall to make it happen, and then to other people who helped out so that we didn’t have to make that burden.

“To have the commitment at Trackhouse from Justin like I have now is equal to the teams that took a chance on me early in my career. People like Johnny Davis and Shige Hattori. In that section of my career, we had no sponsorship.

“Last year, we had 10 races on the 1 car and are sold out for 2023 now. It has taken several people in my life to take those chances, pick me up whenever I needed it, put me back in my place whenever I needed it and I learned more than I ever could in a funded vehicle.”

When Marks created Trackhouse, it became successful because it was well thought out and properly executed.

Marks is an entrepreneur in the truest definition of the term. He is a risk taker but makes measured moves.

“There are interesting and important days ahead in this sport,” Marks said. “The next couple of years we come into new media rights deals, new agreements for the teams, there are a lot of unknowns but some great opportunities ahead.

“Now, is the time to lock down on what we have that is good and make sure we are committed to our drivers and people so we can go through this transition and come out the other side really, really strong.

“We are committed to our drivers. There wasn’t every really any doubt that this was our group going forward.”

For Chastain and Suarez, as well as the men and women back at the team’s race shop in Concord, North Carolina, Trackhouse has become their “Trackhome.”

“It’s incredible to find a home here at Trackhouse,” Chastain said. “I always laugh that it’s ‘Trackhouse,’ but we have truly made it a home. That’s ironic because my house in North Carolina is truly just a house. Nothing on the wall. I spend more time at the shop because that’s really my home.

“For a really long time, we are going to be together.”

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