Rolling the Dice in Vegas

October 12, 2023

As Trackhouse rolls into Las Vegas for this weekend’s South Point 400, the NASCAR Cup Series operation is proof that no dream is too big and how taking a chance can pay off.

Las Vegas is where big dreams either come true or quickly disappear in crushing disappointment. It’s high risk for the dream of a high reward, but can quickly vanish with one bad hand, one roll of the dice, one spin of the Roulette Wheel or one turn of the slot machine.

NASCAR Cup Series racing is a different kind of high-risk, high reward venture. Big dreams can be rewarded if the right decisions are made.

That is evident at Trackhouse, as team owner Justin Marks had a big dream and wasn’t afraid to take a chance.

In two short years, Trackhouse has gone from a single-car team without a NASCAR Charter to a two-car operation that is among the best in the NASCAR Cup Series garage. It will expand to a three-car team in 2025 with Zane Smith, who will spend next season with Spire Motorsports in a program that involves Trackhouse.

The PROJECT91 program at Trackhouse has been a huge success with New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen driving to victory in his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series race in the July 2 Grand Park 220 Chicago Street Race.

Van Gisbergen is leaving Supercars to run a blended NASCAR schedule next year in a Trackhouse program involving several other teams.

When Trackhouse arrives in Las Vegas later this week, the team won’t be racing for the championship after Ross Chastain was eliminated from the Round of Eight in the cutoff race in the BankofAmerica ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the team and driver have plenty left to accomplish in the final four races of the season.

It's time to “Roll the Dice” and score some more wins as Trackhouse and the NASCAR Cup Series head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The story of how Trackhouse got to this point is more remarkable as someone scoring big at a Las Vegas casino.

Although they can’t compete for the big prize in the Round of Eight, Chastain and Daniel Suárez are hungry for wins and want to finish the season on a hot streak.

In Vegas, it’s called the “Winning Hand.”

“The fight for the championship wasn’t in the cards this year,” Chastain said. “I can’t wait to go to Vegas and go for some wins. We’ll change direction on the setups.

“It’s going to be fun.

“I can’t wait to drive on track at Las Vegas and push the limit of the car and slide the right rear tire and go across the bumps out of control and nail a qualifying lap and go for fifth in points and go for the win.”

Before Las Vegas, however, Chastain has some family business to tend to on Thursday night.

“I catch a commercial flight into Las Vegas on Friday night coming from a watermelon convention in Florida on Thursday night,” said the man known as the ‘Watermelon Farmer” from Alva, Florida. “My life doesn’t change. 

“Through all of life’s ups and downs, the watermelon industry will have dinner ready for me Thursday night at the Florida convention, I’ll catch a commercial flight down there and a commercial flight to Las Vegas and spend the weekend with my team and see what we can do.”

When asked how the watermelon crop has been this season, Chastain’s eyes lit up.

“It’s been good,” he said. “Florida was good. Georgia was really good. It’s done for the fall season, and we are going to get our fields ready for a spring.”

Racing star on the Sunday, the “Watermelon Farmer” takes pride that he is a common man.

But there is nothing common about the rapid success, and high expectations that come with Trackhouse and Chastain.

“I’m just living my dream,” Chastain said.

Earlier this season, Trackhouse team owner Justin Marks explained how quickly that dream has come together.

“It’s a really great spot to be in because there were a lot of nights where there was no sleep because there were a lot of questions that had to be answered,” Marks explained. “Could we manage the Chip Ganassi Racing to Trackhouse transition and maintain the Chevrolet relationship? We were hoping some big sponsorship deals came through.

“When I announced this team, I didn’t have a charter. Would I be able to get a Charter and would Trackhouse ever be a thing? Those were tough nights.

“Now that we are established, we have those relationships established, we are in a really, really great spot because now we are telling this great story that resonates with a lot of people and we are having a lot of success on the track.”

In 2021 when Trackhouse began the season as a one-car entry, Marks and team partner Pitbull featured talented driver Daniel Suárez of Mexico. Without a NASCAR Charter, Suárez and Trackhouse had to make every race through qualification speed. The 36 NASCAR Charter teams were guaranteed starting positions in the 40-car field.

Suárez did his part by making every race for the season.

In 2022, Suárez became the first driver from Mexico to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he drove the No. 99 Trackhouse Chevrolet to victory at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California on June 12, 2022.

Marks realized he needed a NASCAR Charter to move forward. He met with longtime racing team owner Chip Ganassi and asked if he were interested in selling his NASCAR Cup Series operation. Negotiations were successful and on June 30, 2021, Marks and Ganassi announced the sale.

At that time, Chastain was driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. Marks was impressed with his ability and the two even had an interesting backstory.

“My belief in Ross started way before Chip Ganassi, way before Trackhouse,” Marks explained. “When I was let go from my Truck ride in 2011, Ross was the guy that got into it. I saw him in his first ever truck race get in the truck that I was in and really, really struggled to get a top-10 in and didn’t. He got it in his first race in the truck at IRP and that got my attention.

“I was a fan of his for so long. When he got the opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing in those three races in the 42 car in the Xfinity Series, it’s weird how life goes. 

“Trackhouse was formed. The Ganassi acquisition happened. Ross was in the 42 car in the Cup Series and had momentum with that team. Cohesiveness was being built. 

“I wanted to very much tell Ross on the day we acquired Chip Ganassi Racing, he was going to drive the car. But we had a lot to get through on the business side and solidify our relationship with Chevrolet, all of these moving parts we had to do.

“This is a huge moment. My top three was when I got to call Ross on the phone and tell him he was the guy I want in the No. 1 car.

“This was 13 years in the making, but I have been a huge fan of Ross’s talent, as a human being and of his potential. He’s going to do incredible things for this company.”

Before this year’s Daytona 500, Trackhouse was able to successfully sign both Suárez and Chastain to long-term contract extensions to remain with the team.

It was another winning hand for Trackhouse.

“Daniel was basically employee No. 2 or 3 when we got this company going,” Marks recalled. “With Ross, we were close to winning the championship in the 1 car and got a win and some fantastic performances out of the 99 car. I never had any anxiety about losing these guys. I felt really confident about it.”

Suárez believes he can accomplish some great things at Trackhouse and be a vital part of moving the program forward.

" The future of Trackhouse is very bright, " Suárez said. “I feel like I'm experienced enough now to understand those things and to understand how important people is. 

“Everybody at Trackhouse believe in me. I believe in Trackhouse since day one. We're building something great here. I think we have something special going on. It would be silly not to see that and to take advantage of that, to take it to the next level.”

With Suárez signed to a new deal, the next move was to add Chastain to a long-term extension. That was announced at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2023, at a special announcement with many of Chastain's family and friends from Alva, Florida in attendance.

“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.”

Chastain won three races in 2022 and finished second in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race by 235-feet to champion Logano at Team Penske.

He was NASCAR’s breakthrough driver and was named the 2022 Driver of the Year by the National Motorsports Press Association.

With the NASCAR Cup Series leading heading into Las Vegas, 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 sold out all the space for 2023. 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.”

Marks doesn’t look at Trackhouse as a gamble. That’s 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 by making measured moves, it is not a gamble.

“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.”

It all started with a dream and Marks took a chance on that dream. In a city like Las Vegas, Marks and Trackhouse have proven that big dreams can come true.

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