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Up to Speed: Can Trackhouse Racing Avoid Regression in 2023?

A new season of NASCAR racing has begun, but so far things look just like last year for Trackhouse Racing. The organization had a breakout campaign in 2022, putting Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez in the playoffs. Both drivers scored their first NASCAR Cup Series wins, and Chastain advanced all the way to the championship race. The success of the Nos. 1 and 99 teams suggested that Trackhouse would be a team to watch in 2023.

While it’s still very early, it looks like both drivers have kept their speed from last year. Suarez and Chastain soldiered through the chaotic final laps of the Daytona 500 to bring home top-10 finishes. Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway went even better. Chastain had the best car on Sunday afternoon, winning both stages and leading 91 laps on his way to a third-place finish. Suarez was right behind him in fourth after spending most of the race mixing it up in the top 10. It already looks like Trackhouse is out to prove that 2022 was no fluke.

Chastain might have been able to win the race had Kyle Busch not slipped away from him over the final green flag run. The No. 1 jumped out to the lead after a restart on lap 146, but Busch’s No. 8 remained in hot pursuit as the laps ticked away. Both drivers hit pit road for the last time with 33 laps to go, and it was during the pit cycle that Busch got ahead and began to gap Chastain. Although Busch’s car had been better on the short run up to that point, the No. 8 team clearly had the upper hand for the rest of the way. Chastain was not able to make up any ground and lost one more spot to Chase Elliott in the closing laps.

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Still, Chastain is off to a far better start this season than in 2022. After finishing last in the Daytona 500, he went to Fontana the next weekend and crashed twice – once in practice and once during the race. With finishes of ninth and third to start 2023, there will be no need for Chastain to dig out of a deep points hole this time.

“To start off this year the way we have is a total 180 from last year when it was not like this,” Chastain said. “So, as much as it stings, as much as it does hurt [to not win], hats off to Chevrolet for [sweeping the] top four there, and [I’m] pumped to be in this position with Trackhouse. For our first crack at the big tracks here, it’s all we can ask for.”

Suarez rebounded nicely from a pit road speeding penalty early in the race. Unlike his teammate, Suarez had a good run at ACS last year, racing into the top five in the closing laps before finishing fourth. He matched that finish on Sunday to go along with a seventh in the Daytona 500.

“First of all, I want to say thank you to every single man and woman at Trackhouse for building these rocket ships,” Suarez said. “It’s a lot of fun to race with cars like this. Everyone in the No. 1 team, the No. 99 team, we have done a great job. The cars are fast again, and it was a lot of fun.”

In both Chastain’s and Suarez’s post-race comments, you can sense a feeling of gratitude and a high level of confidence in their team. Maintaining that level of confidence will be crucial to keeping Trackhouse on course this season, especially if things start to go wrong.

All indications are that Chastain and Suarez will have a good shot to make the playoffs again, but Trackhouse’s 2022 breakout will be a tough act to beat. Racing tends to be cyclical year to year, and it is likely that Trackhouse will experience some level of regression this season. Teams that break out so dramatically during one season often struggle to produce similar results the next year, even if the organization as a whole remains on an upward trajectory.

For instance, remember how Busch began his run with Joe Gibbs Racing, winning eight times in 2008? Busch came back in 2009 and endured a season with fewer peaks and much deeper valleys. Those bad days ultimately prevented him from making the postseason, a surprising outcome after it looked like Busch and JGR were going to take NASCAR by storm. Of course, that pairing proved to be excellent for both parties until it concluded last year. Yet Busch and JGR still went through their ups and downs in the early years.

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Thinkin' Out Loud: NASCAR, Is It Too Late to Reconsider About Auto Club?

Chastain and Suarez may experience something similar this season with Trackhouse. Chastain will probably show up to some tracks where he was super-fast last year but struggle to run in the top 10. Suarez may find that some of his road course setups, many of which were fantastic in 2022, don’t give him the same advantage in 2023. It’s only natural for the competition to catch up.

Yet there is one great advantage that Chastain and Suarez still have, which is a team that’s invested in them and built to support their skillsets. In working their way up the NASCAR ladder, both drivers faced challenges trying to find the right home. Chastain needed a team that had the finances and resources to establish him in NASCAR. Suarez needed a team that could support him and make his development a priority. Justin Marks and the Trackhouse ownership group have provided all the things that Chastain and Suarez sought. More than anything else, Marks and his associates got the team chemistry just right, and that was what fueled Trackhouse’s breakout in 2022.

Even if Trackhouse does regress in 2023, Suarez and Chastain could become tougher competitors than ever. The 2022 season gave both of them a taste of success at NASCAR’s highest level. Both drivers are off to a good start this year and remain highly confident in their team. While there may be more bumps in the road later on, Trackhouse is a team that can afford to play the long game. As long as the team chemistry remains strong, this organization is here to stay as a Cup Series contender.  

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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Dawg

I think that as a team, they’ll be better than last year. That doesn’t mean I think they will win the Championship, but like last year, I expect one of them to be contending again. One of the keys will be more help from Chevrolet, & the fact that Chastain knows he can win races W/O wrecking someone to make it happen. If the start is any indication, they aren’t ready to eclipse Hendrick but they should be ready to be numbered among the top teams.

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