Tough elimination race on Sunday for Trackhouse duo at Charlotte

CONCORD, North Carolina — Trackhouse Racing was a team I was watching for Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400. Unfortunately, they got my attention on Sunday for all the wrong reasons. Despite both drivers coming into the Round of 12 elimination race above the cutline, only 1 of the 2 advanced on with both drivers being scored in 2 of the bottom 4 finishing spots.

Daniel Suarez was 3rd in the first stage and 6th in Stage 2 giving him 13 total stage points on the day. That was good enough for a tie for 2nd most among playoff drivers. His teammate Ross Chastain didn’t score stage points in the opening stage but did so in Stage 2 via a stage win.

Both were sitting in really good positions heading to the final half of the race. Suarez entered +12 and now had improved his standing. Chastain was +28. That’s when all hell broke loose. Despite each making the final round of qualifying, they faltered.

Suarez’ power steering went out on his No. 99 Chevrolet as the Mexican driver had to drive the final 40 laps without the turning assist on. To do so in these new cars, well it’s a task that is no small feat.

“I’m the only driver in the field who could have finished that race the way my car was (with steering problems). My arms are completely destroyed,” Suarez said after a 36th place finish in Sunday’s race. “I’ve never felt like this in my life. My shoulder is very bad. My hands are destroyed. It was tough. It was very, very tough. We did what we needed to do the first half of the race getting stage points and everything. Once we lost steering, it was just hoping for a little bit of luck. We almost got it right there at the end. It is difficult to rely on luck 100 percent. It is what it is.”

Suarez dropped like an anchor and held on as long as he could. Not long after he fell a lap behind, it was time to pit to try to fix it. They had nothing else to lose at that point forward.

They fell 5 laps behind by doing so but were still only 3 points behind the mark. In a day-and-age to where anything can happen, if Chase Briscoe had his own issues, then Suarez could be moved back in.

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – OCTOBER 09: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 09, 2022 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for him, it didn’t happen. He was among the 4 drivers eliminated from championship contention on Sunday.

“We have to continue to get better,” Suarez continued. “I think we were the only car that actually had a steering issue. I don’t want to say it was a crappy part because I was the only one that had the problem, but we have to come back to the shop and look at what went wrong. It was very, very bad everywhere. There were more than a couple of times I was just screaming. I needed to get it out. It was for sure the most difficult race I’ve had in my life, but I wasn’t going to give up. I needed to keep pushing and waiting for a little bit of luck. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but a little bit unfortunate to (get eliminated) because of an issue. I feel like we were having a normal race in the first half, but it is what it is. We have to continue to keep our heads high and continue to see forward.

“It’s sad (to be eliminated). I felt like it was going to be an easy transfer on a road course being 12 points above and getting a lot of stage points. I think we started Stage 3 18 points above, so it was going to be easy really unless we had an issue. Unfortunately, we had an issue.”

He also had an issue with Corey LaJoie too with the pair trading on track spats as well.

“(Corey LaJoie) wasn’t driving very smart today,” Suarez quipped. “He was blocking me and doing all different things that I could have wrecked him like two or three times. I don’t know why he was doing that.”

For his teammate, Chastain nearly was eliminated too. He got into the wall late in the race and had to go to the garage for repairs. That dropped him to a 37th place finish. He luckily did enough to survive to advance to the Round of 8.

“I’m human, so it hurts to make the mistakes that I made today and yesterday,” Chastain said who also got into the wall in qualifying on Saturday. “I’ll take some time here with my guys and when I drive out of this parking lot, I’m going to make a big effort to leave the Roval here. Normally, it’s Monday morning when I’m done with it and look through everything, but we’re onto another round. It’s a testament to our season and our finish in points today. The strategy by (crew chief) Phil Surgen and our strategy with Trackhouse and Team Chevy to get the stage win in Stage Two is ultimately the difference that gave me the buffer when I needed it the most. I will drive off the property here in Concord and leave this here. It’s the No. 1 priority. I hit the wall really hard, so hats off to this car and what NASCAR and the France family has rolled out. I don’t think a year ago I’m able to continue as hard as I hit the wall. I couldn’t believe it when I made the mistake. I’m still in a bit of a disbelief, but when I walk out of here tonight, it’s full speed ahead to Vegas. I have to move on.”

What’s demoralizing though is the fact that each were supposed to contend for a win.

Chastain brought his No. 1 Chevrolet home 4th in last Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway while Suarez was 8th in his No. 99 Chevrolet.

Chastain also had 3 top 7 finishes in the last 4 weeks while Suarez has a pair of top 10’s in that span. But they were doing what they have to do to survive.

Their path was here by finishing races and not making mistakes which is why they were in this position to have a chance to score 2 of the final 8 spots left eligible to win this year’s championship.

To make matters better, we ended the round on a road course. Trackhouse has won 2 of the 5 road course races run this season.

Suarez won Sonoma, led every lap of the 1st stage in COTA, was 5th in Road America and lined up 5th on the final restart in Indy and finished 5th in Watkins Glen. Chastain was 1st in COTA this year, 7th in Sonoma and 4th in Road America. He crossed the finish line 2nd at Indy before his penalty was levied and only 21st in Watkins Glen.

At least Trackhouse has 1 car in the Round of 8 which is amazing for a team formed in 2020. They bought out Chip Ganassi Racing that summer and would take over the keys to the whole operation that Fall. Now, 2 years later, they’re in the mix for a championship.

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