Ross Chastain writes new chapter with first Trackhouse win

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Ross Chastain‘s NASCAR journey began 11 years ago, running five races for backmarker Truck Series teams.

After seven years in NASCAR’s feeder series, overproducing in the underfunded equipment he found himself driving, Chastain got his first taste of winning equipment in 2018.

A series of ups and downs followed, but no high was ever as sweet as Sunday’s.

Chastain finally inked a new chapter in his racing career Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, claiming his first NASCAR Cup Series win on the 3.41-mile road course after a last-lap shove of AJ Allmendinger that sent him to Victory Lane.

“It’s insane,” Chastain said. “To go up against some of the best with AJ, 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.”

That’s what Chastain has had to do throughout his rise through NASCAR’s ranks — scratch, claw and fight to make sure he stayed in the sport.

In 2018, his eighth season fighting through NASCAR’s upper echelon, Chastain was driving full-time for JD Motorsports. He was doing well despite the team’s lack of resources, nipping at the heels of playoff contention. But he was also coming to terms with his career and what steps he’d have to take sooner than later — on his family’s watermelon farm in Florida, not the racetrack.

“Several years ago, I thought I had found my niche in the sport,” Chastain said Sunday. “I thought I found a comfortable spot. I thought I could make a living. It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but it was a way to stay in the sport that I loved and do what I loved.

“And I was preparing myself to get more involved with the farm back home and probably live in Florida more, travel to the races on the weekends, and not put a lot of effort, put more effort into the farm during the week, and then come back to the races.

“I was a few years out from that, but I had come to terms with that, and then in 2018 that all changed.”

That’s when Chip Ganassi offered a three-race deal in his Xfinity program’s No. 42 Chevrolet. Chastain pounced, nearly won his first outing at Darlington before an incident with Kevin Harvick, and won two weeks later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Those three races changed the perception of Chastain in NASCAR and propelled him into what was set to be a full-time Xfinity ride with CGR until an FBI raid on sponsor DC Solar sank those plans.

That marked one of multiple points that Chastain was forced to wonder where the next opportunity would come from — or what to do when his those situations came to abrupt halts.

But his passion was always there, evidenced by a 2019 journey from Pocono to Watkins Glen to Eldora and back to The Glen that featured a camper, Greyhound bus and an SUV (that had a flat tire) to complete the trip.

Fast forward to June 30, 2021, when it was announced that Chip Ganassi Racing was being sold to Justin Marks. Chastain, of course, was the driver of the team’s No. 42 Chevrolet and was testing Chevrolet’s wheel force car at Dover Motor Speedway.

After a half-hour of disbelief and fear, Chastain worked up the nerve to text Marks: “I want this.”

“There were some days there where I didn’t know (my future),” Chastain recalled. “Turns out Justin pretty much knew all along.”

Perhaps it’s that much more fitting that Chastain’s first win in NASCAR’s premier series is also the first for Trackhouse Racing.

Marks’ relationship with Chastain dates back to 2011, when Marks sold seats to Chastain ahead of his truck debut for Stacy Compton’s now-defunct team. The two grew a close bond and Marks believed in Chastain’s ability — even when Chastain didn’t. Even Sunday in the midst of burnout smoke and smashed watermelons.

“I believed for a long time, but Justin asked me on the frontstretch, ‘Do you believe yet?'” Chastain said. “I would say that I still struggle with that. I don’t view myself as a Cup Series winning racecar driver. I just feel like I have to work to get there, and I’m not there yet. There’s so many mistakes I make.”

Those mistakes still led him to Victory Lane, his fourth consecutive top-three finish.

Marks, who started this program as a one-car operation at the beginning of the 2021 season, owns Chastain’s car as well as the No. 99 Chevrolet of Daniel Suarez. Suarez started second and led all 15 laps of the opening stage before pitting. Suarez’s fortune faded, as did his power steering for the final 28 laps, and he finished 24th.

But Trackhouse cars have been running at or near the front all season, proving Sunday’s triumph was no fluke.

“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 a year and a half into our existence, I’m just proud of everybody that committed. …

We knew what (Chastain) 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 (crew chief Phil Surgen) and the (No.) 1 team moving forward.”

Moving forward involves an introspective look at what transpired in those final corners. Chastain and Allmendinger, on a partial schedule this year with Kaulig Racing, battled hard throughout the day with some contact throughout. And into the final of 20 turns on the circuit, Chastain laid on Allmendinger’s rear bumper.

That contact shoved Allmendinger wide and into Alex Bowman, sending those cars sliding and spinning while Chastain got the checkered flag. Chastain said he stands by his moves but acknowledged he’s ruffled feathers to get where he is, including those of Allmendinger, who was his teammate at Kaulig in 2020 for a full Xfinity season.

“He has taught me a lot, and I’m sure that our friendship will hurt for this,” Chastain said of Allmendinger. “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.

“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 Davison 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.”

Whether or not he sees himself as such, Chastain is a Cup Series winner, as is team owner Marks. The team’s collective performance this season has proven its two cars can win any week.

The question now is how many trophies can they collect.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.