Here and now, just three races into Trackhouse Racing’s second NASCAR Cup Series season, the organization’s name doesn’t yet ring out as a proven, perennial contender, with the word “yet” doing plenty of lifting. More finishes like Ross Chastain’s inspired top-five run last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway would hasten that rise in profile.
Chastain and teammate Daniel Suárez have flourished early on in Trackhouse’s second year of competition, posting head-turning results and inching in on the territory of established NASCAR powerhouses. The team is still building its roots, but the early returns have shown that the organization isn’t a fringe upstart.
“We are no underdog,” Chastain said during a Thursday media availability. “I think we don’t have the legacy of winning. I mean, it’s a big deal right now, we win a stage, we’re proud of that. I think where the plan is and the preparation we’re putting in is to get to a point where that’s just, ‘Yep, OK. We won another stage, (but) did we win the race?’ … I don’t view us as an underdog and I walk around the shop, we don’t feel like we’re lacking anything.”
Chastain led the most laps and finished third last weekend in Vegas, shaking off incidents that slowed his progress in the first two weeks of the season. That performance came a week after Suárez dazzled in placing fourth at Auto Club Speedway, adding some substance to his preseason optimism.
The team’s foundation traces its lineage from Chip Ganassi Racing, which Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks purchased last year. The newly expanded Trackhouse operation occupies the same building, and some of the same personnel made the move as the team’s ownership changed hands.
But Marks’ influence in forging the organization’s direction has been immeasurable, Chastain says, pointing to the sense of purpose behind the performance.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen to where what Justin has brought in and the mentality in the shop,” Chastain says. “And now, fast race cars help that, but it all started back with the testing and assembling these cars, and pushing Chevrolet and the new regime of Chevrolet and how well we are working together. It’s the people, that’s the biggest thing. And it’s the same people, so I don’t know if this makes sense, but I’m telling you, there’s a change in the culture here and how Justin has infused this building and motivated people is different. And I’ve never seen a shift in attitude like I have this year. Like I said, fast cars definitely help that, but it’s been a game changer.”
Another development that’s new for Chastain on a personal level is the security of what he termed a “longer-term” contract, one that’s forced him to break old habits. At previous stops in his career, the 29-year-old driver has pushed his cars to the limits in an effort to show his skills and impress prospective team owners. Stability at Trackhouse has altered that mindset.
Chastain said that pit-crew coach Mike Metcalf had given him a book — “It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life,” by Andy Staples and Trevor Moawad — to help him think through and minimize the extreme highs and lows of a race weekend. He said that he’d made conscious efforts to remind himself of those lessons — from the book, from Marks, from crew chief Phil Surgen — during the course of last weekend’s race.
“I struggled to bring it all back to anything more than just going as fast as I can,” he said. “So Vegas was a total reset for me.”
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Staying on an even, neutral keel helped to show some of the team’s potential in Vegas. Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet led a race-high 83 of the 274 laps. He was just one spot shy of his career-best of second place, registered last season at Nashville Superspeedway.
His mood leaving Las Vegas was one of inspiration, rather than any possible frustration for coming so close to victory with just a podium spot to show for it.
“It’s exactly what we needed, more than I could have ever hoped for,” Chastain said. “I mean, we prepare for those days, but until you’re actually there and doing it, I kept thinking, ‘how am I gonna mess this up?’ So a green-flag pit stop at the end, some late-race restarts, just not not putting myself in a position to fail. And we were still able to finish third on a weekend I felt like I really stayed within my means, and a fast race car carried me through a lot of that.
“So no, super happy. Have no regrets. I know things I could have done better, I know things I could have been faster at, but as far as a whole picture, if I could have written down how the weekend would go, I wouldn’t change anything for how it went.”