Top Dog: Ross Chastain
When NASCAR Cup Series drivers took to Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March 6), Ross Chastain was ready for his time in the sun. Sporting a car sponsored by the Academy of Country Music Awards with Dolly Parton donning the quarter panels, Chastain nearly took Trackhouse Racing Team to victory lane for the first time in its short history. Just like we saw with fellow underdog Erik Jones last week, Chastain come up just short, placing third.
After starting from the 16th position, Chastain roared up through the field and inside the top 10 early on. He didn’t stop there, finishing third in stage one to capture eight valuable points. Clearly piloting a rocket ship, Chastain’s day was only just beginning.
On lap 113, he took the lead from Kyle Busch. Those laps were the first ones led by a Trackhouse car this season. After a pit stop shuffle, he took it back from reigning champion Kyle Larson, where he stayed, earning the team’s first stage win. For the final stage, the No. 1 stayed side-by-side with Busch for three laps before taking the lead and holding it for nearly 60 more circuits.
Like many things in NASCAR, expect the unexpected, though. That’s what happened when the race took a turn after Denny Hamlin spun and stalled on lap 221 to bring out the caution. Chastain lined up next to Busch only to lose both the lead and second to Martin Truex Jr. During the long green-flag run that followed, the No. 1 couldn’t quite keep pace, losing touch with the Toyotas although remaining a strong third behind them.
A caution with three laps to go mixed pit strategy up, as Chastain’s team elected to go with four tires, leaving pit road in fifth. Double-file battles ahead of him stripped Chastain of the momentum needed to challenge for the win, but the Alva, Fla. native still crossed the line behind Alex Bowman and Larson in third.
The sting of what could’ve been will likely fill Chastain’s mind for a while, just like his teammate Suarez probably felt after losing the lead with three laps to go last weekend. However, a lot of positives can be gained from another strong showing by a team that just expanded to two cars this season.
Chastain led 83 laps on the day, pacing the field and securing the most circuits he’s run in his young career thus far. Those laps led also surpassed Trackhouse’s total of 74 laps led in its first 40 starts as a team. He also earned the most points of anyone on the day, banking 52 of them. It was his first top-five finish with the organization and just the fourth overall of his Cup career.
The No. 1 team proved just how good it can be today. And though the watermelon is a bit sour right now, you can bet Chastain’s day is coming.
Corey LaJoie has gotten off to the best start to a season of his career, quietly earning two top=15 finishes in the first three starts of the season. His 15th-place finish at Las Vegas comes two weeks after a 14th in the Daytona 500. Ty Dillon was not far behind, coming home in 20th. While the No. 42 Chevrolet for Petty GMS Motorsports has not made much noise early in its existence, Dillon has now earned three top-20 results to open the year. And despite getting involved in an incident for the third straight week, Justin Haley shook off a lap 43 spin to earn a 17th-place result, his first top 20 for the No. 31 of Kaulig Racing.
All three races have produced edge-of-your-seat drama, including several crashes. Unfortunately for a couple of strong underdogs, the Neon Garage is where they ended up today. Suarez had one of the most helpless moments of the race. Michael McDowell had stayed out to take the lead on lap 83 for a restart but immediately began to fall back. On lap 93, he slipped in front of Chase Briscoe.
Briscoe checked up and got sideways, only to straighten the car out by tagging Suarez’s bypassing No. 99 CommScope Chevrolet. Suarez got turned into the wall, sending him into a wild spin that looked like a pinball around the SAFER barrier.
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) March 6, 2022
The crash relegated Suarez to last place in 37th.
Once again, Jones had some good speed in his No. 43 FOCUS Factor Chevrolet, battling inside the top 10 at times. A stop for a brake issue on lap 143 could have left the team floundering, but Jones was able to get the wave around to work his way back into contention.
However, it went south for the team once and for all with three laps remaining. While running seventh, Jones hit the wall in turn 4, sending him onto the apron. He spun back on track and got grazed by Bubba Wallace, who swerved into the inside SAFER barrier to avoid him. While Jones climbed from his battered race car unscathed, he was left with just a 31st-place showing.
Perhaps a sentimental favorite and underlying story that fans have been following is that of Greg Biffle. Biffle returned with NY Racing in the No. 44 Florida A&M University Chevrolet after running in the season-opening Daytona 500. Unfortunately, just like the problems he endured at Daytona, a fuel pump issue popped up to force him out of the race in 34th. If there was a bright spot, though Biffle was the one to find it.
Bummer for our 44 car today…we had another fuel pump issue…we were making gains still on the lead lap. Thought we could have had a top 20 finish…although I did lead my first lap in 6 years! 😀
— Greg Biffle (@gbiffle) March 6, 2022
Underdogs Sound Off
Ross Chastain (third): “It’s a dream come true. This is what all the work is for. This is why we train and try to build our whole lives and careers once we realize we can race at this level, is to have race cars like that. I couldn’t be more proud of Trackhouse, and thankful for Justin Marks and Chevrolet.
“To have the ACM’s on the car, be able to go over and hang out now tomorrow night is really cool. It took a lot of patience inside the car. It’s tough for me to not get too aggressive and a lot of neutral thinking. Josh Wise and a book by Trevor Moawad really helped me today. That’s progress.”
Justin Haley (17th): “Overall, it was a pretty good day for us. We were able to repair the No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet from California, so to come away with a top 20, I think, is a win for us. We made some great gains, but there’s still some things we have to work on as a team to capitalize on the effort.”
Daniel Hemric (22nd): “We fought some adversity again this week with some brake issues and sustaining some damage to the nose of the car. That’s not how we drew it up, but I’m really proud of the effort everyone at Kaulig Racing made today. Sometimes 22nd feels like a win, and that’s what today felt like in this No. 16 South Point Camaro ZL1.”
Todd Gilliland (23rd): “We fought with the handling of the car all day. I’m really proud of my team and the way we showed speed throughout the middle of the race. We keep getting closer and closer each week. I’m learning so much about the new cars. I feel like we’re super close to battling for better positions.”
Michael McDowell (27th): “We had another really fast car during the first half of the race, led laps, and were in contention to finish well. We had some issues in the mid-to late-stages of the race that hurt our finish, but I’m proud of the speed that we have brought to the track to start our season. We’ll continue working, and get the new cars bugs worried out, and start clocking off some good finishes.”
Daniel Suarez (37th): “I don’t know what to say. He (Chase Briscoe) got loose and he clipped me. He didn’t do it intentionally, but it was unfortunate.”
Small Team Scheme of the Week
During Michael Waltrip’s weekly Grid Walk, Waltrip slipped a pair of sunglasses on when he got to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 47 Sunny D Chevrolet. That perfectly summed up just how bright the JTG-Daugherty Racing car was. The sun certainly added to its vibrancy at Las Vegas, although the race result wasn’t as bright: Stenhouse piloted the brightly-colored machine to a 21st-place finish after getting hit with a pit road speeding penalty during the final stage.
Checkered Flag @LVMotorSpeedway 🏁 🏁 🏁
— JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) March 7, 2022
Top Dog Count
The top three underdogs found those slots for the first time this season, with Chastain earning top dog honors. None of the races have had the same driver inside the top three more than once so far, the latest sign of NASCAR parity that has defined the 2022 season to date.
Daytona – McDowell, David Ragan, Ty Dillon
Auto Club – Jones, Suarez, Daniel Hemric
Las Vegas – Chastain, LaJoie, Haley
Up Next: The sport’s west coast swing wraps up at Phoenix Raceway this Sunday (Mar. 13), the track that will decide the Championship 4 in November. Be sure to watch closely and see if the underdogs can keep their momentum full steam ahead toward potential playoff bids.
About the author
Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.
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