If Hollywood were looking to make a movie about racing, a possible script idea could sound something like the following.
A driver spends several seasons struggling at the lower levels of NASCAR with no real success achieved only to finally get a big break. However, that opportunity is ultimately ripped away leaving said driver seemingly out of luck. However, new opportunities arise that ultimately lead to a seat with a new and unproven team that quickly emerges as a contender allowing the driver to score Cup Series wins. Those victories ultimately lead to some miraculous last lap heroics and a shot at the series championship in the season finale.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, not really.
As anyone who pays very much attention at all to motorsports could guess, the previously mentioned script mirrors the career and the most recent season of Alva, Florida native Ross Chastain. At the same time, in typical Hollywood fashion, there were a few ruffled feathers along the way that added a good deal of drama in what would otherwise be considered a storybook season.
Chastain spent several years driving on the NASCAR Xfinity Series for underfunded JD Motorsports with very little success to show for those efforts. Then, with funding from an energy company known as DC Solar, an Xfinity Series ride with Chip Ganassi Racing immediately produced results and put Chastain on the racing map. A pole in Darlington that resulted in a hard fought battle with Kevin Harvick was his first time in the spotlight. Following that race, Chastain went on to win in Las Vegas.
It appeared as if Chastain was on his way to stardom. However, that carpet was yanked out from under him and CGR when DC Solar came under investigation by the FBI and was eventually shut down.
But Chastain had shown that he possessed skill behind the wheel of a race car. He won an Xfinity race in 2019 for Kaulig Racing. In 2020, he would claim three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories for Niece Motorsports and finished 7th in the final Xfinity Series standings for Kaulig.
The NASCAR Cup Series ride finally materialized in 2021 with CGR which resulted in moderate success. However, that team was sold to Justin Marks and his Trackhouse Racing operation at the end of the season which left Chastain wondering if his racing dreams would again be ripped away.
Instead, however, Trackhouse retained Chastain while also bringing in Daniel Suarez for the 2022 season. But not much was known or expected from the upstart organization.
Success did come, though. Chastain earned two wins while Suarez added another during the regular season placing both drivers in the NASCAR Playoffs. Ultimately, Chastain would make his way into the Championship 4 with a shot at the title in the final event at Phoenix Raceway.
Now the challenge has shifted from that of becoming a competitive team to maintaining that competitiveness. Chastain says the mindset that got the Trackhouse organization to its current status will not change going forward.
“I don’t think it changes,” Chastain stated during a recent media availability. “I say that because we haven’t said anything different. We went to Community Matters(Cafe) in uptown Charlotte last year sometime, maybe in January. All of our group leaders from competition to sales to upper management to drivers to crew chiefs sat down for breakfast and laid out on big pieces of paper on the wall everybody’s goals and thoughts going into the year. We wrote our mission statement, we wrote what is Trackhouse. We did not have that actually written down on paper so now we have that in our shop and we put it on the website and made it look a little nicer.”
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But now comes the hard part.
“I don’t think we’re going to rewrite that,” Chastain explained. “We wrote what we want Trackhouse to be and we wrote what Trackhouse means on paper and online so we can see it in words. Then we lived by that in the race season and we reiterated that to everybody, all of our teammates at Trackhouse. We’re not changing that, we’ve arrived. That wasn’t just a come and go, it was our arrival. This is our arrival and now the hard part is staying. Maintaining that kind of performance at this level is going to be really hard.
Chastain had his share of controversy throughout the 2022 season. Well documented run-ins with star drivers such as Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. took place and led to promises of retaliation and the creation of the term “Chastained” used by those who found themselves involved in incidents with the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet.
Chastain acknowledged that he may need to adjust a few things about his driving style going forward.
“The biggest thing is to just let these races come to me,” he declared. “They’re long, there’s several stages, there’s lots of pit stops and a restart here and there. My aggression gets me that one good restart and then it sets me up for the rest of the race to run good and have a shot to win but sometimes it doesn’t and we’ve got to fix damage. Balancing that a little bit more and paying it forward with some of these drivers- their memories are incredible and talking with them after I race them there’s little moments in the race where if I had just paid it forward just a little bit and cut them a little slack, not even give them a spot but just give them a little room, not seal them off to the wall or push them down to the apron, they would have cut me a little slack later and maybe that would have been the difference in winning some races.”
Finding that balance is key.
“At the end of the day, I just want to win so if I can pay it forward to win maybe same day it’s going to be better for me,” he said. “That’s easy to say but if you give everybody a little room they’re going to take a lot of room and you’re going to be back in the high 20’s and you’re not going to be successful. How do I wrap my head around that, that’s the hard part. There’s no single answer when I pull on the track at the Clash.”
Of course, whenever Chastain’s name comes up, the last lap move he made at Martinsville in which he put his car against the turns three and four wall and went “full send” to gain enough spots to put him in the Championship 4 will be immediately brought up. The driver known as the ‘Watermelon Man’ is not bothered by the fact that he is known for the move.
“I woke up Monday morning after Martinsville and I realized that’s probably something I’m going to talk about for the rest of my life and I’ve just accepted that in my mind,” he recalled. “The greatest thing is that it was the step to get to Phoenix and gave us the opportunity to fight for a championship. What that meant for our team was huge, immeasurable in my mind.
Chastain says that move is symbolic of the Trackhouse mindset.
“We were and we are willing to do anything and that goes for me in the car to our mechanics building the car to our sales team and our hype team and everybody at Trackhouse,” he declared. “It was just a single moment in time that I can point to and say look at what we’re willing to do. That’s for any current employee or new employee that’s coming in to friends and family that might question why we do this. I can now point to turns three and four at Martinsville. That’s what we’re willing to do and that’s why we do it.”
As stated earlier, the goal is now to stay on top.
“The hardest part for us is, now that we’ve arrived, is how do we stay here? I think that’s going to be the most challenging thing we’ve done. We thought 2022 was challenging but maintaining that level against teams that have done it for a long time may be our biggest challenge yet. But look what we did this year, we’ve got every shot to do it again.”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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