AUSTIN, TX — In exactly the kind of thrilling final lap, final-turn high-action finish NASCAR has so often provided on road courses, Ross Chastain persevered in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix to win his first career NASCAR Cup Series race at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas – the sixth different winner this season.
Chastain really had to earn this one – coming out on the right end of a frantic, four lead-change, two-lap final overtime. And he did – moving veteran A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman in the final series of turns on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn circuit to take not only his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series but also give his Trackhouse Racing’s Justin Marks his first win as a new owner in stock car’s big leagues.
After grabbing the position in the final corner, Chastain raced off to a 1.331-second victory over Hendrick Motorsports driver Bowman, who unlike Allmendinger was able to recover from the last lap contact and continue to the checkered flag. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick rounding out the top five.
Chastain’s family owns a watermelon farm in tiny, rural Alva, Florida and as he has famously done with past victories in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, Chastain stood on top of his winning car, the No.1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet, and dropped a watermelon to the track, crushing it on the ground as his team and fans exploded in cheers.
“It’s insane to go up against some of the best and I know he’s [Allmendinger] going to be upset with me, but we race hard, both of us,” said Chastain, who has been runner-up in the last two NASCAR Cup Series races coming to Austin.
“But when it comes to this Cup win, I can’t let that go down without a fight.”
Allmendinger, who actually was a NASCAR Xfinity Series teammate with Chastain two years ago, was understandably crushed as well after the race. He finished 33rd.
“We just needed two more corners,” said a disappointed Allmendinger, who also went door-to-door in a tight on-track battle with Chastain in winning Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at COTA.
“Everybody’s got to be comfortable with the move they make and look in the mirror,” Allmendinger told FOX Sports. “Everybody’s different on what they view, and you can’t judge a person for that.
“So, at the end of the day, I’m just proud of Kaulig Racing for bringing such a fast Action Industry Chevrolet. We started at the back, drove to the front and if we had had a long run [at the end] it would have been game over. Nobody would have touched me.
“You know the moves are going to be made at times. Whether I’m okay with it, doesn’t really matter.
“I wanted to sweep the weekend and we came two corners away,” he added.
Chastain led a race high 31 of the 69 laps – one of nine leaders in the series’ first road course test with the Next Gen cars debuting this season. The race produced a series road course record of 30 green flag passes for the lead.
And the 29-year-old Floridian becomes the 12th consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race winner under the age of 30 and the third first-time winner this season.
It was as equally a thrilling maiden win for the former NASCAR and sportscar driver Marks, who was interviewed during the FOX telecast just before the final restart, revealing with a smile that “It’s a little easier to be a driver of one these things than to watch.”
“It seemed like a real tall order when I dreamt this thing up,” Marks said. “But every man and woman that’s trusted the vision and committed to Trackhouse and worked so hard owns a piece of this victory.
“I’m so happy for everybody. Everybody believed in this, and I can’t wait for next week.”
And, he reported with a grin, he spoke with the team’s co-owner, music superstar Pitbull who promised he also was smashing a watermelon over his head and drinking champagne.
The race pole-winner Ryan Blaney finished sixth, followed by Martin Truex Jr, Austin Cindric, Erik Jones, and Austin Dillon rounding out the top 10.
With that fourth-place finish Elliott now holds a 13-point advantage on Blaney heading into next weekend’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Was Move For Win Fair Or Foul?
AJ Allmendinger wasn’t too thrilled with the move Ross Chastain made on the final lap in overtime of Sunday’s race at the Circuit of The Americas. Chastain, admitted that this could strain their relationship because of it.
However, this wasn’t the first time he says that he cost Allmendinger a win but in the case of this one, it could put some distance between the two with how the final few corners transpired.
“I’ve cost AJ a win at Daytona in the Xfinity Series, and he was obviously a quarter mile away from winning here,” Chastain said.. “He has taught me a lot, and I’m sure that our friendship will hurt for this. I feel like I had started to win some of his friendship back, and just being nice to each other when you see each other. It took a while.”
As far as making the last move, it’s not like Allmendinger didn’t get into Chastain first.
Did the fact that Allmendinger did that initial move on him and the onus that Allmendinger’s team isn’t going for points make Chastain get a “payback” and take the win now and apologize later?
“No, it’s just a race car,” he said. “I know who I’m racing around. I’m aware of my surroundings. And honestly, through the carousel I thought with Alex to my right and AJ ahead of me, I didn’t think there was a way to win. When we got to 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 12 too much, and he got to me. It only took a small little bump in 15. I was so loose through there all day. You saw it in qualifying. It’s where I slipped up and missed the fast five and was managing that all day, and it only took a small little bit.
“No, I don’t race anybody any different.
“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 Davidson 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.
“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.”
Trackhouse Here To Stay
I wrote in my 5 burning questions this week with one point being is Trackhouse Racing now a legitimate contender? In a season with so much parity already from six races with six different winners, one constant is Trackhouse Racing.
Well, after how Sunday’s race transpired, I’d say they may go down with a fight with the best of them. Daniel Suarez jumped out to the early lead and led the first 15 laps of the day. By virtue of that, he took the victory in the opening stage.
The course of his day was altered via his spin in the first corner of the opening lap of the second stage restart. He’d have a left rear flat and have to limp around the 3.41-mile Texas road course until getting to pit lane for repairs and a fresh set of tires.
That put him behind. He’d only finish 24th as a result. Still, he had a top five car in being second in practice, qualifying on the front row (2nd) and have enough pace to score his third top 5 in the last 5 weeks if all went to plan.
For his teammate though, Ross Chastain is in the zone. His win on Sunday was his fourth straight top three result as he’s now led 156 laps this season, which ranks second most.
“I don’t think we can put the cart before the horse,” said team co-owner Justin Marks. “I think it just comes down to fundamentals. We just have to continue executing, taking advantage of our strengths and improving our weaknesses as much as we can.
“Tomorrow these guys are going to be in the shop just thinking about Richmond. That’s the thing, right? What I say is it’s the aggregate of all the small things that make opportunities for big things to happen. Just to have an opportunity to be at this stage, on this stage, and to be able to compete at this level of the sport, I’m really, really lucky. Lucky that everybody committed to this.
“We feel like I don’t want to use the word ‘championship’. We just got here, so it’s like we still have a lot to learn. And we haven’t been to a short track yet. We still have a lot to learn with these race cars.
“We’ll just keep fighting along and doing the best that we can, and we’ll see where we end up at the beginning of the fall.”
Marks says that part of the reason though that they’re this fast this soon is that it has to do with this car showcasing the talent of the people behind it. A big credit is to this Next Gen race car.
“I think that we were coming out of an era in the sport where you could engineer a piece of equipment that was so much — so far superior to everybody else’s, but now we do truly basically have the same stuff,” he said.
“I say it’s an execution car. It’s a car that shines when people work together and really try to prepare well and methodically and think about it. It’s a driver’s car. We have two incredible race car drivers. I’ve said this about Daniel all along, and I’ve said it about Ross for ten years that I’ve known him. These are championship-caliber talents. We just need to get them in a spot where they can shine.
“And Chevrolet is strong right now. Our preparation is on point. Everybody is super motivated, so we’re just very — workflow is super effective during the week. I say all that knowing there’s a piece of me that I don’t know really besides the fact that we just have really, really good people that are united and working hard and preparing well, executing well.”
Before you can get to this car and this situation, you have to go back to prior to the 2021 season to where Justin Marks had a vision. He wanted to take the next step. His driving days were numbered and he desperately wanted to get into the sport as an owner.
So, he started out to make it happen.
“This was an ambitious thing to sort of dream up, and I asked a lot of people that had a lot of experience in this sport and seen a lot of teams come and go to trust me and to commit to Trackhouse,” Marks said. “And so to be here not even — not even a year and a half really into our existence, I’m just proud of everybody that committed.”
The first step was to actually find a driver. That was Daniel Suarez. The next was to use relationships between Suarez and Marks to musical icon Pitbull. The three used resources from there to create Trackhouse.
Born Feb. 2021. Now, March 2022 they’re winners.
It didn’t come easy. Trackhouse leased a charter last season but that charter was sold out from under them to Kaulig Racing. In the market for not just one, but two, Trackhouse offered Chip Ganassi a deal he couldn’t refuse.
“I told Ty (Norris) let’s not lose sight of where there might be charters or business opportunities for Trackhouse where nobody is looking,” Marks said last summer. “A lot of these owners are toward the end of their careers, and I was just thinking, maybe there’s somebody out there that is ready to make a change, is ready to step away or ready to move on and focus on other things.”
Now, they pulled it off.
Trackhouse has acquired not one, but both of Chip Ganassi Racing’s charters as well as his entire team. Ganassi, was getting out of NASCAR and Trackhouse is taking over.
“My NASCAR team was not for sale,” Chip Ganassi said when the sale was announced. “Justin (Marks) simply came to me with a great offer and an even better vision. As everyone knows, I care deeply for my employees so selling to someone like Justin who is part of the CGR family make the reality of selling much easier.
“At first, it surprised me a little bit, but I have to say that – after thinking about it for a while – it very much reminded me of about 20 years ago, when I was talking to Felix Sabates about getting involved in NASCAR. I felt like there’s a lot of young, energetic thought being put into what Justin was saying.
“With all the new blood that seems to be coming into the sport now, with Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin and maybe [Brad] Keselowski, and Tony Stewart has his team, Jeff Gordon’s back involved… all these sorts of things.
“The sport is great for some new young blood. We talk about a new generation of drivers and I think you’re going to see a new generation of owners now. I think it’s a great thing for the sport.”
Marks, raced 23 times in the Xfinity Series for Ganassi between 2015 and 2018. He won a race for them in 2016 at Mid-Ohio. So, the two have a friendship and history together.
Plus, Marks’ team in Trackhouse has financial capital from Pitbull as well as Chevrolet cars which is what Ganassi also has which makes this even more seamless.
“This process took several weeks and I want to thank Chip (Ganassi) for being so open and candid with me every step of the journey,” Marks said. “Chip has built an iconic motorsports empire and the Ganassi brand is globally recognized as a winner in the auto racing industry.”
So, with a second charter, who would be the driver? Suarez was obviously coming back. Would it be Chastain, Kurt Busch or someone else?
“Every single one of these people, they own a piece of this victory,” Marks said. “So it was always Ross. 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 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 Phil and the 1 team moving forward.
“I’m proud of everybody. Chevrolet, Onyx Homes and Moose and AdventHealth. It’s a really, really great day for us.”
Still, even saying this, from working on this in 2019 to being a winner in 2022 in just the second year of this organization, what was his sales pitch was to get people to buy into his dream?
“The thing is this car — I really believed since day one that this car delivers an opportunity for these companies to feel like real teams and to really invest in teamwork, the way the 9 and the — I’m sorry. The way the 1 and the 99 work together and how everybody feels motivated and empowered.
“The pitch was, let’s build a great team together, let’s do all of this together. That was the inside of the building pitch. 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 and how we do things, have some fun, look good, try to be fast, win races, have a good time doing it.
“I just have always been authentic about my mission. I just take a lot of pride in seeing everybody’s smiles and happiness today. The pitch was, Let’s just do something great together.”
They’re already doing so now.
Is Hendrick Motorsports’ Road Course Advantage Gone?
This was another big topic entering the week. Hendrick Motorsports had won 8 of the last 10 Cup Series races if you date back to the final five races of the 2021 season including 3 wins in the last 4 weeks at that. Now though was a road course race. The first true test of the Next Gen.
See, everyone knew this car was adding parity to the sport, but with a car better suited than the previous one on road courses, would that negate HMS’ dominance on them?
I mean they had won 80% of the races lately and had also won 9 of the last 11 road course races in general. Would anything truly change when they won 3 of the 5 races this season?
Last year alone, they finished 1-2 here. They did so in 3 of the 7 road course races overall in 2021. However, they were just 3-16-27-30 in practice and 5-12-13-24 in qualifying. In the race, Alex Bowman was there with a shot to win on the final lap but had to settle for a runner-up. Chase Elliott, last year’s winner, was fourth while William Byron (12th) and Kyle Larson (29th) finished outside the top 10.
Was having 2 of the top 4 finishers showing that maybe the advantage wasn’t gone after all? I’d say maybe it was still. Out of 69 laps, they led none of them.
Lap 40 Caution Changed Everything
The race was shaping up as your typical road course event. Few cautions with pit strategy and when to hit pit lane around the stage breaks setting the stage for the first 39 Laps. Then came that Lap 40 caution for Erik Jones stalling on the backstretch. That threw all strategy out the window at that point.
Everyone would hit pit lane then and know that barring something chaotic, most would have enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag. So, that’s exactly what transpired.
Everyone ducked down pit road on Lap 41. Ross Chastain, AJ Allmendinger and Tyler Reddick would run 1-2-3 for much of the rest of the way until the final overtime restart. 5 of the final 6 in the box score never hit pit lane again from then on out. Some others ducked down on Lap 52 and Lap 54 to go off strategy and see if it worked. It nearly did too for Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. who each pit on Lap 52 and made it back to 3rd (Bell) and 7th (Truex Jr.) respectively.
“It was a hard fought day that’s for sure,” Bell said. “Losing power steering wasn’t ideal. I picked up an issue early on in the race, and I knew something wasn’t right and eventually lost power steering a couple laps later. That wasn’t good, but this 20 group did amazing getting us back out there. The DeWalt Camry was really strong on restarts. I was always able to pick off a couple spots and that’s ultimately how we got our finish.”
Truex Jr. said his day was just a battle.
“We never could get the car where we needed it,” he said. “I was definitely worried after practice – I was not feeling too good. Your hands are so tied to these things with these short practices. We just battled all day and fought on and got a decent finish but no stage points, so just a so-so day for this Bass Pro Shops Toyota team.”
How Much Did Saturday’s Racing Help?
Ross Chastain was running second towards the end of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race. He was spun on a late race restart by Landon Cassill and finished outside the top 10. Alex Bowman was second towards the end of the Truck Series race a few hours prior. He had a run in with Stewart Friesen and Kyle Busch.
AJ Allmendinger won that NXS race though and there all were running for the win on the final lap in Sunday’s Cup race.
How much did running in those races help?
“I’ve been trying to do a better job as a race car driver at these road courses, and I felt like from where we started the weekend, I accomplished that,” Bowman said. “So proud of Greg (Ives) and all the guys. Hate that we can’t come away with a win, but happy for Ross getting his first win.”
Cole Custer even came to run the Xfinity race too and was having a great day before spinning late in the race while running in seventh place.
Maybe getting seat time pays off after all even if nothing really translated over other than just that, getting extra laps.
Last season, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson were dominating. Larson, won 10 times in a championship winning season. He also won the regular season title too. Hamlin, while having no wins in the regular season, had 8 top fives in the first 9 races of 2021 including 17 top 10’s in the first 26 races run.
Well, he’s not had a top 10 yet this season. He crashed in the Busch Light Clash. He crashed in the Daytona 500 (37th), he had overheating issues in Fontana (15th), he made a lapse in judgement in shifting in Vegas (32nd), he had a speeding penalty in Phoenix (13th) and crashed in Atlanta (29th). He then had issues in COTA including a late race spin to finish 18th.
Larson however, does have a win (Fontana) and a runner-up (Vegas) but also has finished 29th or worse in each of his other 4 starts on the season including Sunday in COTA. He’s led just 59 laps all year too after pacing the field for 2,581 laps a year ago.
While both have the capability to turn it around at any point, their lack of results most weeks early on is eye opening.
- We’ve now had 3 1st time winners in 6 races this season. Austin Cindric (Daytona), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix) and Ross Chastain (COTA) have all won already this season.
- Longer shots keep going. Cindric (25-1), Larson (4-1), Bowman (18-1), Briscoe (50-1), William Byron (12-1) and Chastain (25-1) have all won races this year.
- This was the 12th straight race that a driver under the age of 30 has won.
- After the 1st 4 races saw the driver to lead the most laps fail to win the race, we’ve now seen the driver with the most laps led win in each of the last 2 races.
- Parity – We had 5 different organizations represented in the top 7 on Sunday including 4 different organizations (Penske, Hendrick, SHR, Trackhouse) having already won a race this season. We’ve also seen 6 different race winners in 6 races run.