He’s The Real Deal
Yes, I really do think Chastain is a legit title contender. I know Trackhouse is relatively new on the scene, I know Chastain hasn’t been in competitive equipment for a long time, I know all of the detracting points. Chastain just has so much going for him – as does Trackhouse Racing as a whole.
Despite only being in their second year, being able to buy up so much CGR equipment and knowledge has given Trackhouse a massive boost in terms of competitiveness. Last year with Daniel Suárez they showed obvious flashes of speed by themselves, but often struggled with parts failures and other issues that were generally rooted in a lack of experience. With so much more experience hanging around the operation now, that hasn’t been an issue for them so far, which bodes very well for Chastain’s continued success. They certainly aren’t Gibbs or Hendrick yet, but they’re closer than any of the other smaller operations.
To Chastain’s end, his aggressive “take no prisoners” driving style is exactly what the team needs. Being a young operation, they may still be a tick or two off of some of the big dogs in terms of speed. Well, what can make up for that? A driver who’s willing to leave everything on the track, and drive each lap like it’s the last. That’s exactly what Chastain brings to the table – he’s a talented driver who isn’t afraid to rough up the competition to get the best possible result for his team. Sure, that aggression could come back to bite him at some point, but thus far it’s worked out just fine. Let’s not forget, Chastain has experience in those big moments. He ran for the Truck Series championship in 2019, just missing out on the title, coming home second to Matt Crafton. He also made a deep playoff run with Kaulig in the 2020 Xfinity Series, advancing to the round of eight. While he didn’t summit the mountain in either case, he got close – and that experience counts for something. He won’t back down if he’s able to make it that far this year.
And just looking at this season, Chastain’s stats are pretty incredible: he has seven top-5’s across 11 races, with two wins. But. . . what about those four races where he didn’t finish in the top-5? Well, one was a Daytona big one, one was a spin when he was running sixth, one saw him up front for three quarters of the race before he faded late, and the other one. . . was a dirt race. I don’t know about you, but I see nothing from Chastain or Trackhouse that makes me doubt whether they can contend for the title.
No, Because Right Now, Nobody Is
Listen, I want Ross Chastain to be a championship contender as much as anybody does. But this early in the season I’d still put my money on the usual suspects.
Kyle Larson started 2017 by coming half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500. He backed that up with three runner-up finishes and a win. Larson went on to win three more races, narrowly missing out on the regular-season championship.
Then he never really showed up in the Playoffs, failing to make it past the Round of 12. Kyle Busch, who was eventual champion Truex’s main competition, didn’t win his first race of the season until July.
In 2020, Kevin Harvick won nine races and didn’t make the final four.
Yes, Harvick was still a championship competitor even if he ended up fifth, but Chastain has only won twice, not nine times. With the current Playoff format, a driver needs to put up an incredible regular season to have enough of a points cushion to coast through the first two rounds. Chastain has 13 Playoff points and is sixth in the standings. He isn’t there yet. Nobody is.
There’s often a narrative around a lot of up-and-coming drivers that they “choke” wins away. They get oh so close to that first career W, but then lose the race to someone boring. Oh, just another Denny Hamlin/Kevin Harvick/Joey Logano win. Young guy choked it away again.
Tyler Reddick alluded to it when he blamed himself for losing the Bristol dirt race: controlling a race from the front takes a different skill set than having a great day in the pack and finishing top-5. Drivers who are regular contenders are able to grab onto a win with both hands and refuse to let go: Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, and William Byron have developed this ability over the past two years.
In both of Chastain’s victories, he took the lead on the last lap. He isn’t yet able to lead from the front, and that’s why, for my money, I’ll take someone who has already proven they can.
After Talladega, Trackhouse Racing Team owner Justin Marks went on NASCAR America and said, “Playoffs, championship, those are just not words we use in the company right now. . .we just focus on trying to do a good job week-in and week-out.”
To build a race-winning team in just two years is a truly incredible accomplishment in motorsports, and a testament to Marks’ vision. He isn’t making grand claims or lofty goals, he’s focusing on the process.
I think Marks is aware that Chastain and the No. 1 team need more experience out front before they can be considered championship caliber – this is the same team for which Kyle Larson drove in 2017, after all. Instead of jumping right into championship preparations off of good fortune and hype, Trackhouse and Chastain are focused on building a solid foundation for his and the team’s future. I’m honestly more impressed by that.
Featured Image from Pat Vallely