While Joey Logano earned the biggest prize as NASCAR champion, Ross Chastain made the biggest leap over the 2022 season.
Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, had the perfect bookend for a season that started with his win in the Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum and ended with his win Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
In between, Logano won races at Darlington, St. Louis and Las Vegas. The 32-year-old Connecticut driver added to a sure Hall of Fame career, now with 31 Cup Series victories along with his second series championship.
Chastain was closing in the final laps, but still had Logano’s teammate, Ryan Blaney, between himself and the race leader with his third-place finish. Still, it’s a tremendous improvement for both Chastain and his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team.
Over the season, he scored his first two Cup Series wins at the Circuit of the Americas road course and at Talladega Superspeedway. Even more memorable was his ride along the wall on the last lap at Martinsville, where he passed five cars in a video-game move to qualify for the championship race.
His second-place in the championship standings is hard to comprehend when you consider how far he and the team have come. One year ago, behind the wheel of the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Chastain had three top-five finishes and eight top-10 finishes on his way to a 20th-place finish in the point standings.
In Chip Ganassi’s two decades as a NASCAR team owner, he had some big moments including Jamie McMurray winning both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in 2010.
Overall, Ganassi won 15 races as a car owner — including a four-win season by Kyle Larson in 2017 and Sterling Marlin contending for the 2002 championship before being injured in a crash. The team was somewhat competitive in 2021 with former series champion Kurt Busch winning a race and finishing 11th in the points.
Enter Justin Marks and Pitbull, who purchased the team’s assets from Ganassi at the end of the season. Their driver lineup for 2022 was the unproven combination of Chastain and Daniel Suarez, a former Xfinity Series champion who had struggled in good rides in the Cup Series.
Both drivers were hungry and worked well together as teammates. Suarez won a race at Sonoma and both drivers qualified for the playoffs. Chastain took it to a whole new level with his aggressive driving and daring, once-in-a-generation move at Martinsville.
The eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Florida was quick to point out that just two seasons ago, he ran only eight races for the underfunded Spire Motorsports team — finishing seven laps off the pace at Darlington.
Chastain, who had been a motorcoach driver just to stay in the sport, showed he had the talent when paired with good equipment. He won two races in the Xfinity Series and four races in the Truck Series.
No one questioned his dedication. He ran 77 races in NASCAR’s three national series in 2019, usually driving to the races, but also taking one long bus trip with the fear of flight delays.
While Trackhouse is a major step up, not one of the national media who follow the sport predicted them to be championship contenders before the season. Their best finish with Suarez in 2021 was fourth on the Bristol dirt and this was their first year as a multi-car team.
The debut of NASCAR’s Next Gen car evened the playing field to a large degree. Still, few if any expected Chastain and Trackhouse to be competing against powerhouse organizations like Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports in the championship race.
“Who had the No. 1 car second in points on their bingo card on February 1? This is a continuation of a lot of people believing in me,” Chastain said. “It’s pretty wild to fight for a Cup Series championship and to have a car fast enough to chase them down to the end.
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“My family has stuck with me and pushed me from the farm to NASCAR. This is only our first shot with Trackhouse. For Justin Marks, (team manager) Ty (Norris) and Pitbull to believe in me to drive this 1 car, it’s incredible.”
What the group accomplished is truly an amazing feat and has elevated them into of NASCAR’s elite teams.
FORD WINS IRONMAN RACE
Johnson City driver Jensen Ford won last Friday’s Deep Fried 75 feature for the Valvoline Iron-Man Series at Duck River Raceway near Lewisburg.
Driving the No. 83 McCarter Brothers machine, Ford set fast time at 12.861 seconds around the tight quarter-mile track and dominated action throughout the night.
Ford won his second Super Late Model race of the season and the second Valvoline Iron-Man Series race of his career against a stout 22-car field.
Josh Putnam finished second, 2.482-seconds behind Ford. Jadon Frame, Michael Chilton and Sam Seawright rounded out the top five.
Ford became the second Deep Fried 75 winner from Northeast Tennessee, following Mosheim’s Vic “The Thrill” Hill, who won the inaugural race in 2012.
The Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series wrapped up Oct. 29 at Muddy Creek Raceway.
Trey Emert from Johnson City rode his Honda to a sweep of motos in the 25+ division. Suzuki rider Brandon Hughes from Roan Mountain also swept motos in the 35+ class. Carson Eads from Kingsport was the winner in two classes (250 B and Unlimited B), while Alex Colley from Norton, Virginia won CollegeBoy and twice was runner-up to Eads.
Dakota Wilson from Elizabethton won both the 250D and 450D classes, while Mason Liddle from Jonesborough was the 51cc, Beginner victor.
Isaiah Osborne from Johnson City finished runner-up in the Vet MX class, and Cory Thornsberry from Bluff City finished second to Colley in the CollegeBoy class. Among the youngest riders, Jeremy McNeal from Fall Branch (ATV Amateur), Gabby Kindle from Fall Branch (Girls), Joseph Taylor from Kingsport (51cc, 4-6) and Jayden Hefner from Telford (51cc, Multi-Speed) all posted runner-up finishes.
CHEROKEE RACE PARK
Matt Anderson was the Pro winner at the 1/8-mile Rogersville drag strip last Saturday. John Nelson and Kaleb Caudill split the winner’s purse in No Box. Kaylinn Besana won her first ever race in Junior Dragster.
The next big event is the Turkey Trot from November 25-27. It’s $2,500-to-win for the Pro class and $1,000-to-win for the No Box racers. The Junior Dragster payout is based on the number of entries.
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This content was originally published here.