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2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: The Emergence of Trackhouse & NASCAR’s Newest Superstar

When Justin Marks announced in 2020 the formation of Trackhouse Racing Team, there were more questions than answers.

Marks had lost out on a bid to purchase assets from now-defunct Leavine Family Racing, leaving him without NASCAR Cup Series equipment or a charter. There were no alliances announced, no manufacturer agreements, or driver signings … just a new team and an aspiring owner. 

What Trackhouse has done in the two years since has been nothing short of extraordinary. Marks brought on superstar entertainer Pitbull as a co-owner, bringing NASCAR to new markets. Then Trackhouse purchased Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR operation in a bombshell move. In 2022, they took it all a step further.  

Trackhouse has embodied being the now instead of being the next. Between its organizational approach, paint schemes, marketing, STEM learning and overall mission, Trackhouse has re-defined what it means to be a Cup team. 

On the track, its success in 2022 came sooner rather than later. In the first six races of the season, drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez recorded six top fives, seven top 10s and 184 laps led.

Beyond that, the first half of the season displayed a full-force emergence of the two-car organization, with both drivers breaking through for first-career wins.

Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2022 here

The Circuit of the Americas race in particular defined the sudden boom to start the year. Suarez led the first 15 laps and won stage one, leaving no doubt he had the strongest car. But a spin in traffic to begin stage two left the No. 99 driver with a flat tire and heartbreak.

That is where teammate Chastain tagged into the fight. After leading 30 laps, Chastain entered the final lap in the lead and trying to hold off AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. A bump from Allmendinger sent Chastain wide and eventually into third. As became a norm with Chastain, he returned the aggression with two turns remaining. A bump to the back of Allmendinger sent the No. 16 into Bowman and cleared the way for Chastain to earn both his and Trackhouse’s first victory.

No matter the controversy of the win, it proved that one of NASCAR’s newest teams was here to stay and ready to step up to the spotlight.

See also
2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Next Gen Car Changes the Game

Four weeks later, Chastain didn’t have to move anyone at Talladega Superspeedway. Instead, he held his line in the tri-oval on the final lap as the seas parted ahead of him, allowing him to slip through for his second victory.

While Chastain soaked in two wins in the season’s first 10 races, Suarez just could not have much go right by race’s end. Week after week, the No. 99’s speed was met by a miscue that cost him wins.

That all changed at Sonoma Raceway. Suarez took the lead to open the final stage, leading all but three of the remaining laps. Despite some challenges from Chris Buescher, the 30-year-old finally emerged victorious in his 195th start. Suarez became the first Mexican driver to win at the Cup level, and like Chastain’s signature watermelon smash, Suarez started a tradition of his own by breaking a taco pinata. 

In 16 races and just 52 in Trackhouse’s history, it had already recorded three wins. By comparison, it took Joe Gibbs Racing 99 races to earn three wins.

However, the Cinderella story of the team extended beyond the wins. What made Trackhouse’s rapid rise even more incredible was how it found consistent speed. 2022 featured 19 winners and a struggle for anyone to establish themselves as the favorite. Yet in the first half of the season, finding a race without a Trackhouse car in the mix was far and few between.

Just look at the Coca-Cola 600. While both drivers were involved in crashes eventually, they ran 1-2 for a large majority of the event, leading 189 laps and sweeping the stages. Whether it was at an intermediate, superspeedway, short track or road course, Trackhouse left a mark week after week. 

Thanks to both drivers earning wins in the regular season, Trackhouse landed both cars in the playoffs in its first season as a multi-car team. Making the playoffs is one thing, but advancing through them is another animal. Just as it had done all season, the Trackhouse duo made waves. Both drivers made the Round of 12 before Suarez was eliminated in a heartbreaking case at the Charlotte ROVAL.

Still, Suarez had a career year that saw him revitalize his Cup journey and establish himself as a contender. After failed stints at JGR and Stewart-Haas Racing before a disastrous 2020 with Gaunt Brothers Racing, it seemed his Cup career would be short-lived. But like many bold decisions Marks has made, he took a chance on Suarez, who proved him right. He finished 2022 with career bests in top fives (six), top 10s (13), laps led (280) and points finish (10th). That made it easy for Trackhouse to re-sign him for the 2023 season.

Then there is the Ross Chastain “just send it” tour.

Chastain’s abilities turned many heads during the season, as did the aggression that fans have grown accustomed to from him. His move to win COTA brought up questions on etiquette from several fans. But as many other fans and Chastain himself likely argued, he returned the favor after a bump from Allmendinger.

The peak of Chastain’s aggressiveness came at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. In stage two of the race, Chastain appeared to run through Denny Hamlin, breaking a toe link on Hamlin’s car. What ensued was a game of cat-and-mouse, with Hamlin showing his displeasure with Chastain. Later on, Chastain went three-wide on a restart, tagging Chase Elliott and causing a multi-car incident. That led to a tag-team effort from the unlikeliest pair given its history: Hamlin and Elliott. 

Chastain expressed remorse following the race and accepted further retaliation. But the controversy didn’t stop.

In a nutshell, Chastain upset Martin Truex Jr. twice between hard racing for third place at Dover Motor Speedway and spinning him at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July. In the same race, he upset Aric Almirola and ended up turning Hamlin once again. At Watkins Glen International, he turned Austin Dillon, which set off a multi-car crash. And at Martinsville Speedway, the No. 1 spun Brad Keselowski. 

A debate for much of the season was how much, if at all, should Chastain change. Given his success and understanding of where he needed to clean things up, he didn’t have to. Chastain is going to be himself and he proved he can take advantage of that when he needs to.

While the run-ins were less than optimal, other bold moves made headlines. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Chastain missed the first turn on an overtime restart. In response, the Alva, Fla., native took the access road to get back on track and into the lead. No one, not even NASCAR it seemed, knew if that was legal or not. Tyler Reddick eventually passed Chastain for the win, who would later be penalized by NASCAR. However, that was just a preview to unbelievable moves.

That is where we catch up to Chastain in the playoffs. After showing he can be aggressive and race clean with two runner-ups to start the Round of 8, Chastain entered Martinsville above the cut line. But late in the race, Christopher Bell took the lead and Hamlin was ahead of Chastain, allowing them to leapfrog Chastain and leave him two points below the cut line entering the final lap.

After reaffirming his points situation, Chastain did what he only knew how to do: go for it. In video-game fashion, he pinned his car against the wall and never lifted in the final turns. The blitzkrieg move sent him from 10th to fifth and into the Championship 4. And despite all of the talk of retaliation, it was Hamlin who watched Chastain’s No. 1 pass him and dash his title hopes.

Dubbed the Hail Melon, it’s already being named among the greatest moments in NASCAR history.

 

Despite more contact with Elliott again during the finale, Chastain kept his No. 1 in the hunt until the very end. He didn’t have enough for Joey Logano in the closing laps, but he delivered Trackhouse a season most teams wish they could have. 

No matter your opinion on Chastain, one thing remains: he is who the sport needs. In a sport that has been missing a driver who provides highlight reels, is genuine no matter the style and comes from a unique background, Chastain has all of the potential to become that next household name. With all of the pressure of such a quick rise and the on-track controversies, Chastain deflected it all and nearly won a title.

See also
2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Driver Safety a Critical Issue

Trackhouse didn’t just innovate new ways of being a NASCAR team, it took NASCAR worldwide. In May, Marks announced the launch of PROJECT91, a program designed to field a third car for distinguished international drivers. Its first experiment was with none other than 21-time Formula 1 winner and 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen made his debut in the No. 91 at Watkins Glen, drawing even more attention to the sport. A wreck ended his day early, but the bridge had been built between NASCAR and new eyeballs. The car is expected to run in multiple races in 2023, and several international drivers have already expressed interest in the new venture. 

The sky is the limit for the budding Trackhouse team. Marks has provided potential owners a new blueprint on how to get into the sport. And he may have just forced the hand of longtime owners to change their approach. Between its driver lineup, Trackhouse has established itself as perennial contenders.

Buckle up, here Trackhouse comes. 

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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RCFX1

At the beginning of the season, he was horrible because he was overly aggressive and took out a lot of good cars. At the end of the season, he was a hero because he was overly aggressive and made a bonzai move that could have taken out a couple of good cars. Fans are a fickled bunch.

Now that the regular, large teams have been in this car for a year and raced at all the regular tracks, the underfunded teams will slowly start to sink to the back. The great thing about this car was it was an unknown.

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