When Trackhouse Racing’s two transporters pulled out of Phoenix Raceway on the evening of Nov. 6, 2022, they were hauling race cars that represented a spectacular ending to what had been a stunning season for one of NASCAR’s newest teams.
Ross Chastain, who had qualified for the Championship Four with a remarkable last lap the previous Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, finished third in the race and second in the search for the championship. Daniel Suarez, also a playoff driver, was 10th in the final point standings. Both drivers had won during the season – Chastain at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega Superspeedway and Suarez at Sonoma Raceway.
It was the end of a year that few inside the sport had expected from Trackhouse Racing.
Now the calendar has flipped and the Cup Series tour returns to Phoenix, where Chastain’s third-place finish left him only 235 feet behind race winner and champion Joey Logano last autumn. 235 feet from the championship. Taking the track on the one-mile speedway in the Arizona desert will bring back memories of the flourish that ended the 2022 season and underline how close Trackhouse came to bringing home the championship trophy.
“Of course, the goal is to get back to Phoenix for the last race and have another shot at it,” said Trackhouse Racing president Ty Norris. “The story around all that to me is just the motivation gained from missing the championship by 235 feet. Everyone in the organization was asked what else they could do for the company to eliminate that gap.
The answers ranged from better management of time to a better work-life balance to controlling emotions across the stresses that come with a long season to simply listening more. That last one came from Norris, who emphasized the thought that he would learn more listening from Trackhouse team members than by telling them what they should be doing. “Listen more, talk less,” he said.
Norris said the Trackhouse group left Phoenix at the end of last season not so much disappointed with not winning the championship but motivated by the fact that the team came so close in what is still its infancy.
“Races play out differently,” he said. “If you’re dominating a race and you end up second, you’re upset. When we left Phoenix, we were grateful. I think across the company we were very much appreciative to be in that position in what was really our first year together. Ultimately, we’re using that as motivation to close that gap.
“Joey Logano had the fastest car and the most dominant car from the moment we started practicing on Friday until we raced on Sunday. He earned the championship. We didn’t give it away. We feel like we earned our second-place position.”
Putting both cars in victory lane and putting both in the playoffs, plus having Chastain challenge for the championship, showed the team it can perform at the highest levels, Norris said.
“We left Phoenix knowing for sure that we can do this,” he said. “You always have that question: Can we make the next round? Can we move to the next level? Can we really reach the pinnacle of this sport? You really question that every step of the way because if you don’t you’re not challenging yourself to be better.
“I think we would still have a question in our minds about whether we were really ready if we were eliminated in the Round of 12 or the Round of 8. And when you have that question you look for answers. You look for them in all areas. Are we prepared well enough? Are we doing the right thing in engineering or with the simulator? You start questioning all these things if you can’t get past the Round of 12. In my opinion, the fact that we got to the final four validates all those things – that we’re doing things correctly. All the tools we have, we can trust. We can eliminate questions. Now we just have to execute.”
Trackhouse started 2023 with virtually the same team lineups that were in place at the end of 2022. “We feel good about every piece we have in place,” Norris said. “Maybe before our goal was just to make the playoffs. Now it’s to get to the final four and execute.”
Norris described the performance by Logano and his team in the season finale as championship caliber, a level Logano and Co. were pushed to by having Trackhouse pressing forward in the shadows.
“It was an elite championship performance at every level – the pit crew, the preparation, the crew chief strategy, the engineering, the spotting,” he said. “Every single element of championship caliber was met that weekend by them. I felt like we were damn near at the same level. They beat us in practice. They had us the first half of the race. In the second half, we were coming on. If they hadn’t had flawless execution, we would have won. I was proud of our guys to put that kind of pressure on them.”
Trackhouse opened 2022 as a team that possibly could make some noise and ended the year on the Cup Series’ top level. Up and down pit road, across the garage area and in the larger motorsports and business communities, people took note.
“I feel a level of respect for the organization entering 2023 that I didn’t feel as strong in 2022,” Norris said. “I think the most complimentary thing a person can say about Trackhouse is that it’s a destination. We have become a destination team like Nashville is a destination town.
“When you become a destination, it helps you in looking for partners and sponsors and quality individuals who want to be a part of the movement we have going on right now. I have felt personally and as a company a newfound sort of respect for Trackhouse.”
The pursuit of the Cup championship, Norris said, will take a team effort similar to that Trackhouse has produced since its earliest days.
“No one individual is going to make up that 235 feet,” he said. “Somebody will make up five feet, somebody 30 feet and so on. It comes down to every decision. This is not a Ross Chastain conversation. It’s not a one-team conversation. This is really a Trackhouse conversation.
“It’s about how the 1 pushes the 99 and how the 99 pushes the 1. How the 1 pit crew pushes the 99 pit crew, and how the 99 pit crew pushes the 1 pit crew.
“Because we’ve kept these groups together, we know we can do it now. We know we can do it as an organization. So that question is gone. Now it’s just doing it.”