In just its second season in existence, Trackhouse Racing has accomplished one of the goals that team owner Justin Marks set when he entered the NASCAR Cup Series.
He wanted Trackhouse to shake up the NASCAR Cup Series garage by thinking outside of the box. That’s exactly what Trackhouse Racing has accomplished and finds itself as one of NASCAR’s Championship Four at Phoenix Raceway.
Trackhouse driver Ross Chastain is one of the four drivers that will fight it out for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
The 29-year-old watermelon farmer from Florida joins 2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano, 32, of Team Penske, 27-year-old Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing and 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, 26, of Hendrick Motorsports.
True to Marks’ motto at Trackhouse, Chastain certainly delivered outside of the box with his wall-riding move to race from 10th to fifth in the final two turns of last Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway. By popping the transmission into fifth gear, hitting the accelerator and taking his hands off the wheel, Chastain let the radius of the wall steer his car in a lane that no other car has probably ever used.
That move knocked Denny Hamlin out and put Chastain into the Championship Four.
Much like the Fight in Turn 3 at Daytona Int’l Speedway and the Pass in the Grass at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was a defining moment in NASCAR history.
“I think time will tell,” Marks told SPEED SPORT earlier in the week. “When these moments happen, the pass in the grass, the 1979 Daytona 500, even Jimmie Johnson’s brake failure in the Busch Car at Watkins Glen, I think when those moments happen that end up getting played for decades on and on, you don’t know them in the moment that they’re going to stand that test of time.
“We don’t know right now. I imagine this is going to be a highlight that’s played for a really, really long time, but I think time will just answer that question.”
It certainly earned Chastain and Trackhouse international acclaim. Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso tweeted it was the most incredible racing move he had ever seen. Pierre Gasly of Formula One also applauded it on Twitter as did former Formula One driver and current IndyCar Series driver Romain Grosjean.
IndyCar champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud called it a “Hero” moment.
A steady stream of racing fans came to the Trackhouse Racing Shop on Westmoreland Drive in Concord, N.C., earlier this week, just to take a look at the Chevrolet that Chastain drove like Marty McFly’s DeLorean in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future.”
“I’ve seen the comments that people have been making around the world,” Marks said. “I think what’s really exciting about the moment is that it’s transcended NASCAR. It was No. 1 on SportsCenter Top 10. It’s been run by Barstool, by Pat McAfee, it’s been picked up by sports and cultural platforms and personalities, and that’s just really exciting for the sport.
“It’s hopefully a moment like this helps all of us and helps elevate the sport and has attracted new eyes to the sport.
“It’s actually difficult to explain because it’s just — the circumstances are so surreal. None of us have ever seen anything like this. I’ve listened to Dale Jr.’s Download, I’ve listened to all the podcasts, and everyone talk about it. Everyone has got the same reaction, it’s a shocking piece of content to watch, and for it to happen out of our shop is really exciting.
“And honestly it has probably helped and will continue to help this week in kind of alleviating a little bit of the stress or the pressure that anybody might feel just because it’s such a ‘wow’ cultural moment for our sport.”
Marks was perhaps most impressed by the reaction from sporting and media personalities from outside of motorsports, such as former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, who has one of the most downloaded podcasts in the industry.
“When you look at guys like Pat McAfee, some of these people that are at the forefront of sports and entertainment content, really moving the needle, those are kind of the wow moments, right, because that’s when you realize it was a moment that just transcended NASCAR,” Marks said. “All my college buddies are not race fans, do not watch the races, but they all watch ESPN and were blowing up my phone on Sunday night and going, ‘Isn’t that your car that did that?
“Those moments are really, really cool because you get an understanding of what the optics of something like that were.
“The fan in me — it’s like Robby Gordon texted me and was like, ‘That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Tell Ross that was one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen.’ That’s a pretty cool moment. Shane Van Gisbergen from New Zealand texted me, and obviously Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly, and just where it’s getting picked up.
“As race car drivers, we’re always looking for these opportunities. We’re always looking for these loopholes or these special things. And that’s why this move was done in video games for so long. We all grew up doing this move in video games, but nobody ever thought something like this was possible in the real world.”
That is why the moment was so special because of the stakes on the line.
It was a do-or-die moment that had high risk and turned out to have a high reward for Chastain and Trackhouse.
“When you see it happen, that just — with every race car driver in the world, it’s just like, ‘Oh, my God, somebody actually tried to do it and actually made it work,’” Marks said. “The kid in all of us and the competitor in all of us race car drivers, you just — I don’t think that you can look at that and just not think it’s just one of the most insane cool things that you’ve ever seen.
“Seeing that being played out in other forms of motorsports is just really cool. I’ve just been kind of a passenger and a fan the last week, just like everybody else has, just in awe of what we all saw. No one knew it was coming. No one in this building knew it was coming except for Ross. It’s just been pretty wild.”
But that is now in the past. Sunday’s Championship Race is the present and Trackhouse has a chance to do something few people ever thought possible when Justin Marks and international entertainer Pitbull joined forces two years ago.
By the end of the race, Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain could be the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
“What does it mean to be here? It’s incredibly humbling,” Marks said. “To be in this spot right now, I can’t help but be very reflective of my journey as a race fan and then as a driver and then as an owner. It’s very, very surreal and humbling to be in this spot, especially for Trackhouse to be competing with true legends of the sport this weekend in Phoenix chasing glory.
“At the end of the day, I think the overwhelming emotion that I have is just how proud I am of everybody at this company, how much everybody is committed to this vision, believed that this was possible, and have worked every hour of every day since this place turned into Trackhouse Racing with the belief in that vision and chasing it.
“To be able to reward the workforce for all their hard work and their belief with an opportunity to win a championship is kind of the dominating story line of the day here.”
That gives Trackhouse and Chastain another moment to rise to the occasion.
“The opportunity to fight for a championship came down to just one person sitting in the car, and he carried the strength of that entire workforce on his shoulders, and he drove off into Turn 3,” Marks said of Chastain’s move for the ages. “It’s been incredibly empowering for our company.
“All we want is a chance. All we want is an opportunity. I came into this race season with a personal goal. This wasn’t a goal that was socialized publicly or even within the walls of our company, but it was just inside me, is I just wanted to put one car in the playoffs. That’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to put one car in the playoffs.
“And now for us to be kind of at this point, we’re playing with house money because we’re beyond all of our expectations right now. But that doesn’t for a second mean that these guys right down here in the shop aren’t working on that car harder than they’ve worked on a car all year because we’ve got an opportunity to go to Phoenix Raceway and win a NASCAR Cup championship.
“Last week I was nervous about Martinsville because I just so badly at this point now wanted to go to Phoenix with Trackhouse being a part of the story. I really wanted that. Now we have that, which is amazing.
“Now it’s easy. Now we’ve just got to try to go win a race. We’ve just got to beat three guys.”
Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race is set for 3 p.m. (ET) on NBC.