Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: What is Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ceiling in 2022?

Just three races into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Trackhouse Racing Team has already been on the doorstep of two wins. Last weekend (Feb. 27) at Auto Club Speedway, Daniel Suarez made a late charge to the front, battling Kyle Larson for the lead within the last five laps. While Suarez was unable to defeat the defending champion, he did equal Trackhouse’s best ever result with a fourth-place finish.

On Sunday, March 6 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Ross Chastain did one better. Surviving a chaotic first half of the race, Chastain emerged as the man to beat for most of the final stage. Ultimately falling out of the lead late, Trackhouse’s newest driver settled for third behind Larson and winner Alex Bowman. But with 83 laps led and a top-five finish, Chastain’s performance was among the most impressive of the afternoon.

“It’s a dream come true,” Chastain said after the race. “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 to have the ACMs (Academy of Country Music Awards) on the car and to be able to go over [there] and hang out tomorrow night is really cool.”

It’s a finish Chastain badly needed. After getting collected in a crash and finishing last in the Daytona 500, he had another rough outing in Fontana after wrecking his primary car in practice and spinning late in the race. The third-place finish at Las Vegas allowed Chastain to pick up 15 spots in the point standings to 20th.

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On the other hand, Sunday was Suarez’s turn to run into trouble. On lap 92, contact between Erik Jones and Michael McDowell on the frontstretch caused Chase Briscoe to jump on the brakes and slide sideways. While trying to save his car, Briscoe hit Suarez and sent the No. 99 nose-first into the wall, ending his day. Finishing last in the 37-car field, Suarez tumbled down 10 positions to 25th in points.

Yet even with Suarez’s misfortune on Sunday and Chastain’s struggles in the other two races, Trackhouse should be feeling good about their prospects for success in 2022. Not only did Chastain win the second stage, he led more laps than any other driver. He also managed to avoid making any critical mistakes during the race. For a driver who has sometimes been criticized for being too aggressive, Chastain was as smooth as silk at Las Vegas.

More performances like that and more finishes like Suarez had last week would put both Trackhouse cars in position to make the playoffs later this year. For a team that just expanded to two cars and is only in its second season of existence, reaching the postseason with even one car would be a superb accomplishment.

The question is, how likely is it that we’ll see a Trackhouse car go that far? Last year, the usual suspects dominated the postseason field. Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske placed all of their cars in the playoffs. If that happens again, it leaves only five tickets to the postseason for everyone else. In 2021, Stewart-Haas Racing took two of those spots, followed by one each for Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Front Row Motorsports.

Trackhouse bought Ganassi’s NASCAR operation over the offseason as part of their expansion plan, boosting their prospects, but the battle for the last few playoff positions is going to be tight. Along with managing the rollout of the Gen-7 car, Trackhouse will face competition from teams like RFK Racing, Petty GMS Motorsports and Kaulig Racing.

Like Trackhouse, all those mentioned above are two-car teams that either expanded or went through some restructuring for 2022. It is still too early to tell if any of them will be able to gain an upper hand on the others, and it seems unlikely that any of them would put both their cars in the playoffs – unless their drivers win.

Winning a race would be the most direct path to the playoffs for Suarez or Chastain. However, neither has visited victory lane before. Chastain’s best finish is second at Nashville Superspeedway last year, though Sunday was his most dominant Cup performance to date.

Suarez has come close on a number of occasions, the closest arguably being at Pocono Raceway in 2018 when then-teammate Kyle Busch beat him on an overtime restart. He also led 58 laps at the inaugural Bristol Dirt Race last season before dropping back to fourth at the finish.

Both drivers have shown flashes of brilliance before their arrival at Trackhouse, and both have won races in the lower national touring series. But each one has faced significant obstacles at NASCAR’s highest level. Until last year, Chastain rarely had the opportunity to race competitive equipment in the Cup Series. Suarez has competed with teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, large organizations capable of winning every week. But he often felt like the odd man out on both teams.

Trackhouse is a game-changer, then for both drivers. Chastain gets a reliable team that can field competitive cars. Suarez gets an organization committed to building around him, rather than having him fill an open seat at a team where other drivers are a priority. Even though Trackhouse might not be the fastest team in Cup, it could prove the missing link between Chastain, Suarez and victory lane. And if either driver can score their first win in the next six months, the postseason is obviously within reach.

It still seems unlikely that both Trackhouse drivers would reach the playoffs, but getting there should be a realistic goal for them. Besides, if Trackhouse keeps fielding cars like Chastain had at Las Vegas, would anyone really be shocked to see the No. 1 or No. 99 roll into victory lane?

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: LAS VEGAS

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.

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