Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four stories examining why each Championship 4 driver could win the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship. For more on Chastain and the Championship 4, tune in to the “Race for the Championship” docuseries at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on USA Network or set your DVRs.
– – –
Ross Chastain will win the 2022 championship because …
… if there were such a thing as a mojo meter, the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing driver would be off the charts.
Chastain’s Martinsville move-heard-round-the-world electrified the sports social sphere this week, with the viral clip of his “video-game move” seemingly on every inch of the internet and beyond — even landing at No. 1 on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” top plays list. Being the guy that everybody is talking about; the guy that just locked himself into the championship race in the most remarkable way possible? (Not to mention the guy whose dang team owner is Pitbull?)
Yeah. Everybody wants to be that guy.
RELATED: Odds to win 2022 championship
I’m honestly not sure there was a soul outside the Trackhouse Racing shop that saw a Ross Chastain Championship 4 appearance as even a possibility in February when the season started. And that’s not intended to be a knock on him or them; this run to a title shot — much like his move at Martinsville — just quite simply hadn’t been done before.
There’s hesitation to call them underdogs right now because Chastain and Co. at this point are anything but at this juncture, but here are some facts. The organization itself is only in its second year of existence, and this is the first season for Chastain’s No. 1 team. He’d started 115 Cup races before 2022, finishing in the top 10 in just nine of them, with a best standings finish of 20th last year.
The 2021 season was a foundation-building, inaugural campaign for Trackhouse with driver Daniel Suárez. While he had some bright spots, he ultimately finished below Chastain — running with Chip Ganassi Racing at the time — in the standings in 25th. Justin Marks and Pitbull then outright purchased CGR’s assets, signed Chastain and set themselves up for a two-car operation this season. Sure, you could expect them to build on Year 1 and maybe get one of the drivers into a crowded playoff field.
Both claimed their first career Cup victories and the automatic playoff berths that come along with them. They both proved to be legitimate championship contenders, and the No. 1 driver has set the racing world ablaze all season long with a style of racing that perhaps we’ve never seen before — and it’s working.
Chastain laid claim to a series-best 14 top fives this season, tying fellow Championship 4 competitor Chase Elliott with the series lead for top 10s (20). His average finish of 13.5 is second-best in the series, and honestly, considering his aggressive tendencies have taken him out while racing at the front of the field on occasion, that number theoretically could’ve been even better.
The Florida native’s finished fourth or better in four of the last five playoff races, has the most top 10s and best average finish (10.56) in the playoffs and was runner-up at Phoenix in the spring. He ranks as the best restarter in the series in 2022, and his team on pit road ranks first on average four-tire pitstop time.
There’s just absolutely nothing to not like about his potential to win this race and the championship — unless you still believe retribution could still be coming his way from one of his many run-ins throughout the season, which feels less likely to happen at this point.
Trackhouse Racing has yet to make a single misstep since its debut in the sport, and in a lot of ways, this really does feel like theirs and Chastain’s championship to lose.
And it’s hard to see them doing so.