Chastain on the verge of a Championship 4 berth, can he do so Sunday in Martinsville?

A little over a year ago, Ross Chastain texted Justin Marks one simple message, “I want this.” Now, 15 months later a burn inside both Marks and Chastain have helped them reach the elimination race of the Round of 8 with a great shot of making the Championship 4 during Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN).

In their first season together and the first as a two-car operation at Trackhouse, they were winners just six races in.

“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.

Last year they ran well, but with being new with an aged race car, there was a steep learning curve that most didn’t have. It was this season they knew that they could start to leave a legacy. A new car was coming and with that being said, they wanted to grow because of that.

“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.”

So, while they dreamed of being a multi-car team, they had to get some charters first. They had one last year but that was a lease from Spire. Kaulig Racing was also wanting into Cup and they bought 2 of Spire’s 3 charters that they owned. One of which was the one Trackhouse was leasing.

So, before they could think about a second team for 2022, they needed to first secure at least one charter back.

“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.”

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 24: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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?

That’s where this text came from.

“I looked over at Darrian Grubb, who was sitting next to me,” Chastain said of his feelings at that time of the announcement. “We were at the wheel force test.

“I said, do you know?

“He is, like — I looked at him.

“He said, What’s wrong? I said, Do you know?

“Know what?

“I showed him the text, and he is, like, I got to make a call. Then I made a call. Yeah, it’s for real.

“Once I knew it was Justin, I knew I had a shot, but I’ve been around enough to know, in the small scale I’ve seen the business side of this, and I know the numbers that it takes to fund these deals. I just didn’t know what this meant.

“Yeah, there was some definite questions, and the answer I got was some questions just aren’t ready to be answered.

“No, did I think I would never win a Cup race? That thought did not cross my mind. I just didn’t know if I would ever — more it was I didn’t know if I would ever drive in Cup again.”

Luckily, Marks knew Chastain was his driver all along.

“So it was always Ross,” Marks said. “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.”

However, at that time, Chastain wasn’t so sure. So, he took a break from the test to reach out to Marks.

“It was important to just — I have a good group around me, and it was like, What do we do? I had to fight off the fear,” Chastain said. “They asked at the wheel force test, Are you ready to get back in? I said, No, I need ten minutes. Ten turned into 30. They’re, like, We’ve got to get going. I said, You don’t want me driving your car right now.

“Once I sent the text — this sounds funny. I’ve done all I can do. He knows. He will see it when he sees it, but I still have a job to do here, so we finished out the day.”

As far as that message?

“I want this.”

He now has this. Chastain has won twice this year and while he’s not reached victory lane since April (24 races), he’s on the verge of the unlikeliest of feats – a final round berth.

Chastain is +19 with one race remaining and is fighting among two Hendrick Motorsports cars, two Joe Gibbs Racing cars and one each at Penske and Stewart-Haas for the final three spots to Phoenix.

No one outside of Joey Logano sits higher in the standings than Chastain who’s as hot now as ever before. He has 5 top 7 finishes in the last 7 weeks including a runner-up in both races run this round.

“It’s just a life goal, a career accomplishment. Just to make it to the Cup Series, be here competing with my heroes. I feel like that no matter what, this season is going to be a success, but in the moments where I hit the wall at the Roval and I realized this could all be gone and we could not transfer, it hurts, and I don’t want that. I’m a racer, and I want the next thing.

“I feel confident in our group and what we’ll take to Martinsville. We ran fifth there in the spring. We just continue to arrive on the scene of the Cup Series, and I wouldn’t want to be doing it with anybody else.”

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