LAS VEGAS—It’s not an anniversary that Ross Chastain relishes—but the experience had a profound effect on his career.
Following his first two races with Trackhouse Racing, Chastain found himself 40th in the 2022 NASCAR Cup standings.
Team owner Justin Marks felt it was time for a reset, so he invited Chastain to lunch.
“It was not the most pleasant lunch, I’ll be honest,” Chastain said. “He did a lot of talking last year, and I did a lot of listening.
“I didn’t have a lot of answers for him then, but we went back to work and started getting the ship righted.”
Marks needed to impress on his driver that his ride was secure. Certainly the adage of slowing down to go fast applied to Chastain.
Chastain had wrecked in the 2022 Daytona 500 and finished 40th. The following week at Auto Club Speedway, he was running sixth with fewer than 30 laps remaining when he slammed into the Turn 4 wall. Chastain still considers the shunt at Fontana to be the most vicious of his career.
“If you look back at the crash we had last year in the 500, then finished 29th (at Auto Club), just to be where we're at, to come back from an incredible crash—one that I still feel very blessed and fortunate to be standing here today—is a testament to this Next Gen car,” Chastain said.
Chastain’s performance in the first two races of 2022 did little to portend the organization’s success at season’s end. The pep talk from Marks ignited a fresh fire in Chastain. He scored three podium finishes en route to his first career win. Another victory followed four races later.
The watermelon farmer from Alva, Fla., amassed 15 top fives and 21 top 10s—more than any other driver in those categories--before finishing second in the NASCAR Cup standings.
Fast forward to 2023. Chastain and his teammate Daniel Suarez both survived the Great American Race with top 10 finishes. Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, the drivers finished in the top five. Chastain currently leads the Cup Series. Suarez sits fifth.
“Besides winning today, I couldn't be much happier with how these two races have gone,” Chastain said after finishing third in Fontana. “I love it. I'm not sure what it says other than we're learning and we're improving and we've got a long way to go.”
Chastain isn’t taking this opportunity for granted. He realizes how different last year might have been with a different team or a different owner. Just to drive that point home, Chastain returned to Tacos4Life last week—this time with a table for one.
“I did text (Justin) this week on Tuesday and said I was happy we weren’t having our second annual post-Auto Club lunch,” Chastain said with a smile. “I went and ate there by myself just to do it and for the reminder that it could be that again. It could be not as good as we have it right now and to enjoy the moment.
“The circumstances around eating on the Tuesday after Auto Club one year apart was a total 180…So I was really happy this year when I sat there alone and got to enjoy my lunch and then go back to work at the shop.”