The pressure was on Trackhouse, and Ross Chastain delivered with the first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season in Sunday night’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Chastain’s win in the No. 1 Worldwide Express WWEX Racing Chevrolet was a homecoming victory for the team as Trackhouse Entertainment’s headquarters is in Nashville.
The busy weekend of entertainment for the team included Chastain winning the first pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career on Saturday. On Sunday, he used that starting position to set the pace for the race.
Once Chastain was able to catch the lapped car driven by Aric Almirola with 22 laps remaining, he was able to weave his way through traffic and open a gap on Martin Truex, Jr.’s Toyota.
Chastain led 99 laps went on to defeat Truex by 0.867 seconds and earn a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
“Thank you so much guys, thank you so much,” Chastain radioed to his crew on the cool down lap before leaving some tire rubber on the concrete surface from his victory burnouts.
Teammate Daniel Suarez attempted to drive up the track to congratulate his teammate on the victory, but his Tootsie’s Chevrolet was hit by Chase Briscoe’s Ford as all the cars were attempting to come down pit lane after the race.
The sellout crowd at Nashville Superspeedway helped celebrate with the “Watermelon Farmer” from Alva, Florida. Naturally, Chastain grabbed a watermelon once he popped out of the escape hatch in the roof of his Chevrolet and smashed it on the start/finish line.
It was his third career NASCAR Cup Series victory.
“The only thing sweeter than this win is this watermelon, I have to tell you, this is incredible,” Chastain said as he was interviewed by Marty Snider of NBC Sports.
The victory helped Chastain overcome the low point of the season at Darlington Raceway in the May 14 Goodyear 400 when he was racing for the lead at the end of the race before crashing with Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports, putting the two lead cars into the wall.
Afterward, Chastain was the target of much criticism, including from rival team owner Rick Hendrick.
He heard the critics, addressed the issues, and responded with the big victory.
“This is why every little kid out there anywhere in the world, when you get criticized, and you're going to if you're competitive, they will try to tear you down. You will start believing you can't do it,” Chastain said. “You have to go to your people, trust in the process, read your books, trust the Big Man's plan upstairs, just keep getting up and going to work.
“I got to tell you; I’ve had a lot of self-reflection throughout all this. I had a group that believed in me, and they didn't let me get down. They bring rocket ships and I just try to point them to Victory Lane.”
Chastain’s key to turning it around was simple to understand.
“Trust in my people. My family back home. The agriculture industry, they're always there for me,” he said. “Everybody at Trackhouse Justin Marks puts in place, (crew chief) Phil Surgen, on the 1 and 99. To win in Nashville is absolutely incredible.
“I train with so many of my competitors, but it makes us better. Up against the best out there. For Worldwide Express Racing to sweep the weekend, get the pole, we won everything we could have with WWEX Racing. Jockey, Advent Health, the Moose. It's absolutely incredible the fight that we have.”
Chastain had a burnout for the ages, perhaps he was relieving the frustration and heat he had felt since his tumultuous period of the season that came to a head at Darlington on May 14.
“That's just a desire to win,” Chastain said of his burnout. “I got to tell you, it's just so hard at this level. It's the best of the best. It's where I've wanted to be since I was 18 years old, from studying for over 10 years just to qualify better let alone go race for a Cup race win.
“Along the way, the journey, I'm so happy that my group is here, everybody that supports me. Yeah, look, it's a Cup win. I don't care what happened last month, the rest of my life, it's a freaking Cup win!”
Chastain continued the celebration by munching on one of the smashed pieces of watermelon. He grabbed the checkered flag with one hand, and watermelon in the other before jumping into the arms of Trackhouse President Ty Norris.
Chastain can thank his Trackhouse pit crew for helping him at the end of the race as they nailed the final pit stop to ensure he would be in the lead once everyone else pitted.
Once the green flag round of pits stops was completed, Chastain was in front and led the final 34 laps to the checkered flag.
Chastain was fast at the start, leading the first 42 laps as the race started under hot and sunny conditions. But as the race went into the night, Chastain’s Chevrolet came to life.
Team owner Justin Marks leaned into the window and congratulated his driver as Chastain pulled into victory lane. Teammate Suarez was one of the first to greet him when he climbed out of the race car.
The victory in “Music City” includes one of the coolest trophies of the season – a specially made Gibson Les Paul guitar.
It was a very big night for Trackhouse, and the party has just begun.
With the victory, Chastain is now the fifth seed in the NASCAR Playoff standings after Nashville.
Now that Chastain and Trackhouse are assured of participating in the NASCAR Playoffs with the victory, it’s time for a street race in Chicago.
It’s the first-ever street race in NASCAR Cup Series history, the July 2 Chicago Street Race, that will feature a specially designed street course that incorporates Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue, Lake Shore Drive and Grant Park.
Before hitting “Sweet Home, Chicago” Trackhouse gets to celebrate its big win in its hometown of Nashville, thanks to Ross Chastain.