Ross Chastain will be driving the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet in 2022. The team made the announcement on Tuesday (Aug. 3) a little more than a month after announcing that the organization will purchase Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2021 season.
Trackhouse Racing will field two entries in 2022, the aforementioned No. 1 driven by Chastain and the No. 99 driven by Daniel Suarez. Suarez, the team’s current driver, signed a multi-year deal prior to the 2021 season but after the purchase of CGR, the organization had a vacant seat along with a charter that locked the car into every race. There were a few different options for the empty seat including veterans Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, as well as Matt DiBenedetto and others. Instead, they selected Chastain.
Chastain has two NASCAR Xfinity Series victories and three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories on his resume. He is currently driving the No. 42 car in the Cup Series for Chip Ganassi Racing where he sits 18th in the Cup Series point standings.
Did Trackhouse Racing get it right? Was hiring Chastain the right move for the organization in 2022 and beyond? Clayton Caldwell and Mark Kristl debate.
Every Team Needs a Leader
Chastain is a heck of a racecar driver. But if I were in charge of Trackhouse Racing, I would have gone in a different direction for the 2022 season. Every good team needs a leader, especially a young team that is trying to build itself into a consistent championship contender. That’s why I would have gone with a veteran driver who has won Cup races on a consistent basis and someone who has the experience to help a team grow.
Chastain’s Cup experience is very limited. For all intents and purposes, he is a rookie in the 2021 season. His Cup experience before 2021 was with teams and in cars that were nowhere near competitive nor at a speed he could have learned a great deal from. For example, Chastain had 79 career Cup Series starts prior to the 2021 season, mainly with Premium Motorsports and Spire Motorsports. He had just one top-10 finish in those 79 starts. This season he has five top-10s in just 22 starts.
Trackhouse Racing will be a two-car operation for the 2022 season. One driver is of course Chastain. The other driver is Suarez, driving the No. 99 entry. Suarez will be entering his sixth Cup Series season and has yet to win a race. He could benefit from a veteran driver who could point him in the right direction and guide him. He’s had veteran teammates in the past, but they’ve all been with multi-car operations who have more than two teams.
If there was a veteran teammate who was there to help guide Suarez and help lead him to victories, now would be the perfect time. They could show him the ropes and what it takes to be a leader in the Cup Series and it would benefit the team greatly down the road.
A veteran driver that understands what it takes to go to victory lane would go a long way for Trackhouse Racing. One of the drivers Trackhouse could have gone with is Kurt Busch. Busch is a free agent at the end of the 2021 season and while there have been some rumors about retirement, Busch has stated recently that he would like to race in 2022. He has won a championship and has 33 wins at the Cup Series level. He brings everything that is needed to a growing team.
He has been with several different organizations and has won almost everywhere he has been. He’s seen it all. There’s no question, Busch has a bit of a shaky past with his behavior, but it is clear over the last several years that Busch has learned from his past mistakes and has become a much more mature racecar driver and person. Who better to help Suarez than a guy who has been there and done that?
A veteran driver like Newman would have helped Trackhouse Racing as well. Newman appears to be out of a ride after Brad Keselowski’s addition to Roush Fenway Racing, so he is available. I know the numbers from a performance standpoint have been down for Newman over the last few years, but he brings more to the table than what is seen on the stat sheet.
Part of the reason why Roush Fenway Racing hired Newman a few years ago was to try and help the organization with their setups. Newman is one of a few drivers with an engineering degree. With a new car coming, a driver who has won races in the Cup Series, 18 in fact, and has an engineering degree would be almost a perfect scenario. With the competition being so tight next year and no notebook to fall back on, someone with an engineering background would be huge. Especially for a team that is trying to build.
Newman also has leadership skills. He’s been a leader at Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing over the last few seasons. No doubt, the team’s short-term success may have been hurt by hiring Newman, but long term, especially when everyone’s notes are starting from scratch in 2022, Newman would have been a nice veteran to add to the team.
Every good team needs a leader on and off the track. A veteran driver would have provided that to Trackhouse Racing. Chastain is a good hire, but I think they would have been better off going with a veteran type of driver for Trackhouse Racing. Newman or Busch would have been ideal. – Clayton Caldwell
Chastain Has Earned It
Chastain rightfully earned the second entry at Trackhouse Racing next year. He has driven solidly in his first real NASCAR Cup Series season with competitive equipment. Given that Busch seems destined to 23XI Racing, Chastain was the best choice for the No. 1.
Hard-working barely scratches the surface of Chastain’s NASCAR career thus far. He finished top 20 in all his NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons, and he notched at least one top 10 in all but one of those seasons. Prior to competing with Chip Ganassi Racing in a short stint in 2018, Chastain already had one top five and seven top 10s driving for JD Motorsports. While that team strives to maximize its equipment, its drivers have struggled this year. That speaks to Chastain’s talent behind the wheel.
When Chastain’s Xfinity Series deal with Ganassi fell apart due to legal troubles for with sponsor DC Solar, Chastain worked hard to compete full-time in the Xfinity Series and part-time in the Truck Series.
Surprisingly, Chastain took Niece Motorsports not only to its first victory but its best-ever season to date. He won three times and finished runner-up in the championship. Oh yeah, and one of his wins was taken away after his vehicle failed post-race inspection. Chastain’s ability to shine in less than fully funded equipment earned him the Trackhouse ride.
Chastain did not win in the Xfinity Series last year, but he only suffered three DNFs. His ability to keep a car clean is impeccable. He notched 27 top 10s, fully showing he can succeed in top-notch equipment. Isn’t that exciting for Trackhouse?
Chastain entered this Cup Series season with 79 career starts, but only one top-10 finish. Nevertheless, he steadily improved his average finishing position. Logging more laps at racetracks certainly benefitted Chastain. With rumors of potential schedule changes, Chastain’s knack for increasingly learning how to drive at racetracks is an asset to Trackhouse, which will only be in its second Cup Series season.
Chastain is only 28 years old, set to turn 29 on Dec. 4. He is still a young driver, and his future teammate Suarez is only 30 years old. Those are two drivers which the organization can build around as NASCAR ushers in the Next Gen car next year.
Trackhouse also believes in Chastain, specifically citing his recent performance this year. He has not endured a DNF since the seventh race at the Bristol dirt course, and he has slowly climbed the point standings to 18th currently, fighting for a playoff berth.
ICYMI: On tonight’s Late Shift, Trackhouse Racing President, Ty Norris joined @BradGillie & @BradDaugherty43 and discussed the team’s signing of Ross Chastain for their second car for the 2022 season and beyond. @TeamTrackhouse | @RossChastain | @TeamChevy pic.twitter.com/8ozZMa35x8
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) August 4, 2021
Chastain also has proven he knows how to adapt to new courses on the schedule, too. In the Cup Series debuts at Circuit of the Americas, Nashville Superspeedway and Road America, he finished fourth, second and seventh, respectively. His ability to adapt to changes will be vital to Trackhouse as it expands and continues its quest for its first victory.
Chastain is a rare breed. He is the driver who brings little sponsorship to these teams, yet his talent and confidence outweigh his funding. He is the type of driver that owners seek sponsorship for – the driver who smashes a watermelon when he won. His excitement, willingness to continually work hard and youth made his choice an easy one for Trackhouse.
For the cherry on top, the hiring of Chastain was applauded by his current teammate Busch. The 2004 Cup Series champion and 33-time winner gave the announcement his seal of approval; who am I disagree otherwise? – Mark Kristl
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) August 4, 2021
Very happy for @RossChastain. He’s a young, talented, motivated, self-driven driver who’s going to win many times in Cup. He reminds me a lot of me when I was younger, only with a SLIGHTLY cooler temperament ??. pic.twitter.com/HYYbbxmePO
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) August 3, 2021