Everything that Ross Chastain has gained in his NASCAR career, he has had to earn the hard way going from the watermelon farms of his native Florida to the highest levels of the sport. And Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, Chastain gained his first career Cup Series victory after taking it by force.
After dominating throughout the day, Chastain survived an overtime restart and bumper tag with A.J. Allmendinger for a thrilling win in the Echopark Texas Grand Prix. After muscling his way around Tyler Reddick in the esses on the first lap of overtime, Chastain attempted to motor away on the final lap before getting caught by a hard-charging Allmendinger.
Allmendinger put the bump-and-run on Chastain entering the stadium section of the course, running Chastain off-line and taking the lead. As Alex Bowman attempted to drive by both of them, Chastain got back to Allmendinger's bumper and punted him into Turn 19, sending Allmendinger into the side of Bowman and spinning into the gravel trap as Chastain drove past the chaos and off into the sunset.
Chastain's victory is the first of his career, and also the first for Trackhouse Racing and car owners Justin Marks and Pitbull.
Echopark Texas Grand Prix unofficial results
- #1 - Ross Chastain
- #48 - Alex Bowman
- #20 - Christopher Bell
- #9 - Chase Elliott
- #8 - Tyler Reddick
- #12 - Ryan Blaney
- #19 - Martin Truex Jr.
- #2 - Austin Cindric (R)
- #43 - Erik Jones
- #3 - Austin Dillon
After years of having to grind in lesser equipment before getting a shot with Chip Ganassi Racing and now Trackhouse, Chastain was emotional as he picked up the pieces from his signature watermelon smash celebration.
"That's insane. To go up against some of the best with AJ -- I know he's gonna be upset with me, but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one -- but when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can't let that go down without a fight.
"... People don't know how good this group is. I can't believe Justin Marks hired me to drive this car."
Here are some of the takeaways from the finish at Circuit of the Americas.
Live by the bumper, die by the bumper
Once two drivers as aggressive as Ross Chastain and A.J. Allmendinger locked horns for the victory, the chances were good that one of them wasn't going to make it back to the finish line. After the two traded paint and sheet metal over the final half a lap, it ended up being Allmendinger who went from leading the race to spinning into the gravel trap in the next to last corner.
In racing, it's generally accepted that turnabout is fair play when it comes to a driver laying the bumper to you after you've laid the bumper to them. But that's not quite a consolation to Allmendinger, who bit his tongue as he went from in a position to win to finishing 33rd.
"At the end of the day, we've all got to look at ourselves in the mirror. If you're okay with it, you're okay with it. Each person's different," Allmendinger told Fox Sports. "... Each person's got to make the move that they're comfortable with. That's fine. At the end of the day, we know we had a shot to win the race."
Had Allmendinger been able to hold on, it would have marked the first time in his NASCAR career that he's ever swept a race weekend, as he was able to win the Xfinity Series race at COTA on Saturday.
Don't stop the Trackhouse party
After demonstrating how they've taken the next step over the last few weeks, Sunday's race at Circuit of the Americas officially marked Trackhouse Racing's arrival as a NASCAR powerhouse. The team led 46 of 69 laps on the day, with Chastain leading a race-high 31 and Daniel Suarez leading 15 laps, the entirety of Stage 1.
Had things played out differently, Suarez showed that he had the car to challenge Chastain and anyone else for the victory. But after alternate pit strategies mired him back in traffic at the start of Stage 2, contact from Corey LaJoie in turn one sent Suarez for a spin and left him with a flat tire. Suarez was able to make up time and track position afterwards, but a power steering issue prevented him from getting back to the front and he would end up settling for 24th.
To be young and winning...
Several years ago, the arrival of NASCAR's youth movement was derailed by the sport's veterans, as the "old guys rule" season of 2018 saw stock car racing's young stars take a backseat to those who had been there and done that. But through the end of 2021 into 2022, the shoe is decidedly and explicitly on the other foot.
Since Talladega last fall, the last 12 Cup races have been won by a driver under the age of 30. That NASCAR record was extended by Chastain on Sunday, who took his first victory at 29 years old.
Based on the way the other 20-somethings have been running, there's a very good chance that streak keeps going. Tyler Reddick came close to his first Cup win yet again, taking the lead on a late restart just before overtime. And of the top 10 finishers, all except seventh-place Martin Truex Jr. and 10th place Austin Dillon are younger than 30.
Notes from the finishing order
- One week after being stripped of a second-place finish at Atlanta, Christopher Bell was finally able to get his season-best finish despite another misadventure. Bell lost a lap on pit road at one point after his team had to go under the hood to address a steering issue, but he was able to make up his lap and make his way through the field to come home third at the finish.
- A road course race marked a get-right opportunity for Austin Cindric, and sure enough it was. Cindric led 11 laps on the day and finished eighth, his first top 10 finish since winning the Daytona 500. A road course race was also just what Michael McDowell needed, as his 13th-place run was his first top 20 since a seventh-place run at Daytona.
- A late-race spin prevented him from getting more out of the day, but Denny Hamlin was able to leave COTA with some sorely needed points after a miserable start to 2022. Hamlin used pit strategy to win Stage 2, earning some valuable points as well as a playoff point before having to settle for 18th.
- Very quietly, Todd Gilliland has proven that he belongs at NASCAR's highest level. Gilliland finished a career-best 16th, his third top 20 finish in six Cup races since graduating from the Camping World Truck Series. Harrison Burton finished just behind him in 17th, marking the first time that all three rookies in Cup have finished in the top 20 this season.
The NASCAR Cup Series starts a stretch of three-straight short track races, with the first being the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway next Sunday.