Ross Chastain bangs Trackhouse Racing into 1st victory lane
By JENNA FRYER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Ross Chastain bumped and banged his way around the final overtime lap at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday for first career Cup win and upstart NASCAR team Trackhouse Racing's first trip to victory lane.
Trackhouse is owned by former NASCAR driver Justin Marks and entertainer Pitbull and is in its second season of competition. Chastain, an eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Florida, was kept on by Marks for Trackhouse when Marks bought out Chip Ganassi's entire NASCAR team ahead of this season.
Chastain celebrated by spiking a large watermelon off the top of his Chevrolet.
"It's never tasted sweeter, I tell ya," the 29-year-old said with a piece of rind stuck in his beard. He then took another huge bite.
The two-lap sprint produced the most aggressive action of a long Sunday of racing on the permanent road course used primarily for Formula One. The race had nine cautions and ran 3 hours, 20 minutes.
Chastain wasn't even the leader - Tyler Reddick had somehow moved to the front in the previous single lap run between the eighth and ninth cautions - and Chastain also had to contend with former teammate and mentor AJ Allmendinger.
Chastain and Allmendinger restarted second and third, while sitting back in fourth was Alex Bowman. He's been chided for "backing into victories, and for a moment, it looked as if another would indeed fall in his lap.
Chastain used an aggressive move to get past Reddick to the lead, and Allmendinger followed. Bowman also jumped past Reddick and closed the gap on Chastain and Allmendinger as the two friends jostled and bashed for the lead.
The overtime featured four lead changes - Chastain and Allmendinger swapped it twice, and Bowman even got to the front - but Chastain decided the race by divebombing inside of Allmendinger. That spun Allmendinger, winner of the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, into Bowman and Allmendinger went from second to 33rd.
"I was so worried about AJ on that second-to-last restart that I let Tyler drive right by both of us," Chastain said. "AJ is so good, I've learned so much from him, and it's like `How do you beat the guy? He taught me so much!'"
He wasn't thrilled to have won the race with the dive-bomb on Allmendinger.
"I feel bad about AJ," Chastain said. "I mean, he's gonna be upset with me but we raced hard and he owes me one."
Allmendinger was openly annoyed after a mandatory trip to the care center.
"At the end of the day, we all have to look ourselves in the mirror. If you are OK with it, you're OK with it. Each person is different," he said of how Chastain raced him.
"I was doing everything I could do to try to sweep the weekend. We were that close. We know we had a shot to win the race."
Chastain - and Trackhouse - have been fiercely competitive since the start of the season as its drivers have been terrific in NASCAR's new Next Gen racecar. Daniel Suarez, who spent all of last season as Trackhouse's only driver, dominated early and led every lap of the first stage before a blown tire destroyed his race on the second lap of the second stage.
Chastain then took over.
He's been fast and led laps this year and was close to a win at both Las Vegas and Atlanta. On the Austin road course, Chastain led four times for a race-high 31 laps.
His win was his first in 121 career Cup starts.
Bowman finished second for Hendrick Motorsports and a Chevrolet sweep. Christopher Bell was third for Toyota and followed by Chase Elliott of Hendrick, the defending race winner. Reddick was fifth and pole-sitter Ryan Blaney was the highest-finishing Ford driver in sixth.
BRISCOE'S BAD BREAKS
Chase Briscoe was a contender Sunday until his race fell apart over the final 12 laps.
He had a poor restart and found himself in unexpected traffic when he drove the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford off the course and cut the corner - which drew a NASCAR penalty.
A caution minutes later gave NASCAR a pause to review Briscoe's off-road journey.
"As long as it's called that way for everybody, I'm good with that," said Tony Stewart, co-owner of Briscoe's car and the guest analyst Sunday in the Fox Sports booth. The NASCAR Hall of Famer also noted that Briscoe lost several positions when he was pushed off track - the opposite of cutting the course to move up in the running order - and had fallen to eighth.
NASCAR ultimately agreed with Stewart's assessment and rescinded the penalty.
But it didn't get any better: Briscoe had to pit for new tires and dropped to 31st for the next restart. He wound up 30th.
The Cup Series races Sunday at Richmond Raceway in Virginia. Alex Bowman is the defending race winner and Martin Truex Jr. won the playoff race at Richmond last September.
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Updated March 27, 2022