Chastain, Trackhouse Bash Way To COTA Win

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 29 2022

Ross Chastain chows down on watermelon after winning his first Cup Series race on Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Former racer Justin Marks’ high-stakes purchase of Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR organization last summer was accompanied by a two-sided sales pitch.

The pitch was, ‘Let’s build a great team together.’ That was the inside-of-the-building pitch,” Marks said Sunday afternoon in sun-drenched Austin, Texas. “The outside-of-the-building pitch is, ‘This sport is ready for challengers. It’s ready for disruptors. It’s ready for people to come in and challenge the status quo, look good, win races, have a good time doing it.’

“I just have always been authentic about my mission. The pitch was, ‘Let’s just do something great together.’^”

Mission accomplished at Circuit of The Americas, where journeyman Ross Chastain beat-and-banged his way to his first Cup victory and first for Trackhouse Racing in the second annual EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. Chastain _ the erstwhile Florida watermelon farmer _ led 31 of 69 laps around COTA’s Formula One-approved 3.41-mile/20-turn natural-terrain layout on a day defined by the closing lap of overtime. 

Chastain, road-course ace A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman all traded paint and positions during the closing lap. After running off-course and falling to third, Chastain rallied to reach and drive into the bumper of Allmendinger, sending him into Bowman. Chastain emerged from that scuffle with a win punctuated in Victory Lane by his signature watermelon smash.

“It’s never tasted sweeter,” said Chastain, driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. “I don’t know how we got back by. I was so worried about A.J. on the second-to-last restart that I let Tyler (Reddick) drive right by both of us.

It’s insane. To go up against some of the best with A.J. _ I mean, I know he is going to be upset with me but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one. But when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can’t let that go down without a fight. I wasn’t going to leave anything out there.”

Chastain scored his first Cup win in his 121st series start. Trackhouse Racing posted its inaugural Cup win after 48 starts.

Bowman finished second in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro with Christopher Bell third in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. Allmendinger, meanwhile, was relegated to 33rd.

“At the end of the day, we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” said Allmendinger, driver of the No. 16 Camaro fielded by Kaulig Racing. “If you are OK with it, you’re OK with it. Each person is different.”

Chastain, 29, capped a string of strong finishes that began when he led 83 laps en route to a third-place result on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That was followed by a runnerup result at the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway and another second-place finish on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s reconfigured 1.5-mile oval.

“I know who I’m racing around. I’m aware of my surroundings,” Chastain said. “And honestly, through the carousel I thought with Alex to my right and A.J. ahead of me, I didn’t think there was a way to win. When we got to (Turn) 19, everything happened and it was not the plan.

“The plan was stay out front when we took the white, and I just babied it. I eased it into (Turn) 12 too much and he got to me. It only took a small little bump in (Turn) 15. I was so loose through there all day. It’s where I slipped up and missed the Fast Five (in qualifying) and was managing that all day, and it only took a small little bit.

“I don’t race anybody any different. I’ve cost A.J. a win at Daytona in the Xfinity Series, and he was obviously a quarter mile away from winning here. He has taught me a lot and I’m sure that our friendship will hurt for this.

“I hate that because I’ve lived through that in my career for 12th place in Xfinity. I’ve fought, and I’ve roughed people up and gotten into people. I’ve wrecked Justin Marks. He was going to win Road America in 2016, 2017. I wrecked him and James Davison for no reason. It’s not lost on me that I make some of the same mistakes. It’s just staring down a Cup Series win. I just couldn’t let that go.”

Six races into the season, the win secured Chastain and the second-year Trackhouse organization a spot in the 2022 Playoffs. Marks, 41, co-owns the team with entertainer Pitbull. Marks competed in NASCAR’s three touring series, scoring an Xfinity win for Ganassi in 2016. Marks’ most recent start was in 2019 in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian in the GT Daytona class.

“This was an ambitious thing to sort of dream-up,” Marks said of his Cup purchase. “I asked a lot of people who had a lot of experience in this sport to trust me and to believe in Trackhouse. Every single one of those people owns a piece of this victory.”

Marks reiterated Chastain was chief among the Ganassi employees he was determined to retain.

“So, it was always Ross,” Marks said. “That’s what I told him when he got out of the car: ‘It was always you.’ When the Ganassi buy-out happened, and he texted me as I got off of the press conference stage of the (NASCAR) Hall of Fame, and he just wrote, ‘I want this.’ He had to be patient with me while I let the dust settle but we all were huge, huge believers in Ross’ talent.

“We knew what he was capable of doing, and he has proved it the last month at Trackhouse. And I think we’ve really just opened a door for him and (crew chief) Phil Surgen and the No. 1 team moving forward.”

Chastain took the green for the scheduled 68-lap/231.88-mile race from the 16th-starting spot. Battling for the lead throughout Stage 2, Surgen brought the No. 1 Camaro down pit road prior to the end of the stage, giving Chastain a fourth-place spot to start the final segment.

“A little too much excitement there for a little bit,” Surgen said. “We knew we had a really strong car all day, and Ross’ restarts were really good. Tyler got by us on one of those restarts late, and we had to fight back for the lead.

“To come back and fight for the win with A.J. _ one of the best in the business _ was great. And then that last lap was just crazy. I think going for the win on the last lap, everything is on the table. They muscled around, and we prevailed.”

Chastain is teamed with native Mexican Daniel Suarez _ Trackhouse Racing’s charter driver _ who qualified second and led all 15 laps en route to winning Stage 1. Suarez, who was edged by Ryan Blaney and his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang for the pole, gave Trackhouse the highest qualifying result in team history.

“Yeah. Super, super-proud of the No. 99 team,” Marks said after Suarez’s 24th-place finish. “Daniel was very focused this week and put a lot of pressure on himself to try to deliver a win and circumstances dictated otherwise.

“I think he is gutted. Especially after leading every lap in the first stage and winning it, and he was so early in the process of building Trackhouse that I think in his mind he was always going to be the guy that was going to deliver our first win. I think that’s hard on him.

“But in a way I always try to take the long view on this stuff. These are our guys. These are our drivers. We’re building a team around both these guys, and that’s what I’ll tell him this week is you have an awesome opportunity to win Richmond in five days from now, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.

“These guys are all so competitive. We’ve done a good job at Trackhouse building two teams that really, really help each other. But when you distill that all the way down to the glory of winning a race and your first career race and sticking a Chevy in the Playoffs, it’s hard. It’s hard to navigate that teamwork, that selflessness and all that.”

Suarez was unable to overcome a pair of flat tires. The second flat, with three laps remaining, dropped him from 12th to 24th.

“He came over and gave Ross a hug,” Marks said. “He understands the mission here. He has a lot of fight in him. He is not going to give up until we get him in Victory Lane. I think both of our cars will be in the Playoffs this year. We just got to make sure we put them in that position.”

The Cup season continues at Richmond Raceway with the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday, April 3, at 3:30 p.m. (EDT). Live coverage will be available on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.


A.J. Allmendinger out-classed the field in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Pit Boss 250, holding off a charging pack to take the checkered flag by 2.039-seconds.

A.J. Allmendinger was indeed No. 1 in Saturday’s Xfinity race at COTA. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

“We’ve had a good start to the year when you look at the finishes, but we hadn’t really contended for the win,” said Allmendinger, driver of the No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Kaulig Racing. “Last year, Kyle (Busch) beat us down pretty good. This race is a tough race. It’s a long race. The track is slick. As we saw in the Truck Series race, if you get a late caution, anything can happen.”

Austin Hill, who won at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in a Camping World Truck Series race last season, finished second.

“It was a solid effort,” Hill said. “I’ve always felt like I can get around road courses. I felt like that last year at Watkins Glen. It gave us confidence coming here. It shows that we can run with A.J. We’ll go back and debrief and see where I can be better as a driver.”

Allmendinger led a race-high 27 laps and battled most of the afternoon with NASCAR Cup Series rival Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing. Chastain, who led three times for 14 laps, got spun by Landon Cassill with seven laps remaining and was relegated to a 17th-place finish.

“Ross was doing an amazing job,” Allmendinger said. “It was going to be tough to beat him. Once he got spun, I was just praying for no more yellows.”

COTA’s 3.41-mile/20-turn natural-terrain layout is the sixth different road course on which Allmendinger has won during his NASCAR career. That streak includes seven NXS wins and two in Cup. The California native has finished fourth or better in 15 of 18 NXS road-course races.

With the victory, Allmendinger moved to within one point of Noah Gragson of JR Motorsports in the point standings. After battling back from a speeding penalty earlier in the race, Cole Custer finished third. Gragson and teammate Sam Mayer rounded out the top-five finishers.


Four drivers, two overtimes and one corner created a finish for the ages Saturday as Zane Smith won a wild XPEL 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at COTA.

NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch led a race-high 31 laps but Smith led the one that mattered, barging from fourth to first through the tricky Turn 11 hairpin in the second and final overtime. Busch was collected in a crash that also took out contenders Alex Bowman and Stewart Friesen and opened the door for Smith to sweep both stages and secure the victory.

“Truck races are crazy,” Smith, 22, said in Victory Lane following his second win of the season in the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford F-150. “You’re never out of it until you’re out of it. That was a wild one. Any truck win you can get feels so great, especially when it happens like that in such dramatic fashion. It’s a huge statement from this team. Every single race this year, I’ve been in contention to win.”

Busch, who leads the NCWTS with 61 career wins, seemed destined to earn his first Truck Series victory on a road course after pulling away from the field late. But the ensuing crash relegated him to a third-place finish behind Smith and John Hunter Nemechek, who placed second by 3.529-seconds.

“Great race all day,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter if you deserve it or not, you’ve got to be the first one to the checkers and we were not.”

Reigning series champion Ben Rhodes of ThorSport Racing finished fourth in his No. 99 Toyota Tundra while Chandler Smith, Busch’s teammate, placed fifth.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


NASCAR Cup Series Race

Circuit of The Americas

Austin, Texas

Sunday, March 27, 2022

  1. (16)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 69.
  2. (5)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 69.
  3. (7)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 69.
  4. (12)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 69.
  5. (4)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 69.
  6. (1)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 69.
  7. (17)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 69.
  8. (10)  Austin Cindric #, Ford, 69.
  9. (30)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 69.
  10. (21)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 69.
  11. (18)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 69.
  12. (24)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 69.
  13. (27)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 69.
  14. (26)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 69.
  15. (9)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 69.
  16. (29)  Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 69.
  17. (19)  Harrison Burton #, Ford, 69.
  18. (8)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 69.
  19. (25)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 69.
  20. (33)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 69.
  21. (22)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 69.
  22. (34)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 69.
  23. (3)  Cole Custer, Ford, 69.
  24. (2)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 69.
  25. (31)  Kaz Grala(i), Chevrolet, 69.
  26. (37)  Boris Said, Ford, 69.
  27. (35)  Cody Ware, Ford, 69.
  28. (15)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 69.
  29. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 69.
  30. (14)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 69.
  31. (6)  Joey Logano, Ford, 69.
  32. (11)  Kurt Busch, Toyota, 69.
  33. (20)  AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 68.
  34. (36)  Loris Hezemans(i), Ford, Rear Gear, 62.
  35. (38)  Joey Hand, Ford, Suspension, 60.
  36. (32)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, Engine, 57.
  37. (28)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Drivetrain, 52.
  38. (23)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Suspension, 44.
  39. (39)  Andy Lally(i), Ford, Suspension, 19.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  70.253 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 20 Mins, 57 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.331 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  9 for 13 laps.

Lead Changes:  13 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   D. Suarez 1-15;R. Blaney 16;A. Cindric # 17-27;D. Hamlin 28-30;J. Logano 31-32;R. Chastain 33-41;A. Allmendinger(i) 42;R. Chastain 43-44;C. Briscoe 45-46;R. Chastain 47-64;A. Allmendinger(i) 65;T. Reddick 66-67;R. Chastain 68-69.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Ross Chastain 4 times for 31 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 15 laps; Austin Cindric # 1 time for 11 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 3 laps; Chase Briscoe 1 time for 2 laps; AJ Allmendinger(i) 2 times for 2 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 2 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 2 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 99,12,48,22,5,31,9,14,21,2

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,18,22,12,10,3,21,1,2,23



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, March 29 2022
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