SONOMA, Calif. (AP)Of all the surprising developments to ponder during this one-week break in a highly entertaining NASCAR Cup Series season, the emergence of Trackhouse Racing might be the most unlikely of all.
That’s right, the 2-year-old team co-owned by Pitbull and piloted by two drivers who had never won a Cup race three months ago. Trackhouse has already racked up three victories and 15 top-10 finishes while producing some of the most memorable moments of the year to date.
”To be such a new group, this isn’t supposed to happen,” driver Ross Chastain said. ”But we’ve got two fast cars.”
Mr. Worldwide and his deep-pocketed co-owner, Justin Marks, could be celebrating even bigger achievements in the months to come with two compelling drivers and two diverse, talented teams behind them.
Daniel Suarez’s inaugural Cup Series victory at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday was the latest superlative in a season-long series of encouraging performances from Trackhouse. Chastain already got the team in the winner’s circle with his first two career victories at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega, and both drivers appear capable of keeping Trackhouse’s versions of the Next Gen race car near the top of the leaderboard all season.
”I’m not surprised that we’re a winning race team,” Marks said after watching Suarez raise a celebratory goblet in wine country. ”I wouldn’t have started this project if I didn’t truly believe the opportunity existed to build a new race team in this sport that could win. It’s just happened really quickly. That’s been the surprise. But it kind of makes sense, too, because we’ve got such great people that work so hard, and the promise of this car is being delivered every single weekend.”
Indeed, it’s a remarkably fast return on Marks’ investment after he bought Chip Ganassi Racing’s operation for the new season. The introduction of the Next Gen car theoretically opened the door for any team good enough to walk through it, and the new Trackhouse mix of former Ganassi employees has done splendidly so far.
”We’re just having fun,” said Travis Mack, Suarez’s crew chief. ”I’ve never been at a place that’s had so much fun. We’re building fast race cars, and everybody is enjoying work. It’s just a great place to be right now. Team chemistry is amazing between (Chastain’s No.) 1 and (Suarez’s No.) 99. It really feels like one team loading two cars.”
Sunday’s victory in wine country was also Mack’s first win as a crew chief. He believes he was Trackhouse’s second hire, and he exemplifies the team’s willingness to take risks: Mack is not an engineer like most Cup Series crew chiefs, but a onetime shock specialist and front-end mechanic who worked his way into the leadership position.
Trackhouse also hopes to be part of a surge in racing interest in Latino culture when combined with developments such as Sergio Perez’s success in Formula One and Pato O’Ward’s growing profile in IndyCar. Suarez and Pitbull, the Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, are both eager to captivate Hispanic fans who haven’t traditionally seen themselves in the top levels of North American auto racing.
”Trackhouse is a team that anybody and everybody can be a fan of,” Marks said. ”To me, this is sort of a representation of what America stands for. It’s a place that you can come with big dreams, and you can work hard to achieve those dreams. … That just shows the amazing place we live. It’s great to be able to write those stories.”
Trackhouse’s teams are diverse, as anybody who watched the crew’s joyous celebrations of Suarez’s victory could see. Suarez also has a lead engineer from Mexico City, although Jose Blasco-Figueroa missed the Sonoma race because he was ill.
Blasco-Figueroa called Suarez in tears moments after the driver got out of the car from his historic victory. They’ll celebrate together with the rest of the team – after Suarez gets back from a trip to Mexico to see his family this week.
Suarez loves being part of this success story – and he’s even happier after finally getting a win in his 195th career Cup start. Suarez was Trackhouse’s only driver last year, and Marks confidently stuck with him after a debut season with only three top-10 finishes, none higher than fourth.
With a new car underneath him, Suarez says he firmly believes Trackhouse is a championship-contending organization.
”The beautiful part is we get stronger as we go,” Suarez said. ”If you asked me that question three months ago, I would have said, `Man, we have the potential, but we have work to do.’ Two months ago, I was starting to believe more. A month ago, I would have said, `Heck yeah.’ And now, we’re here, and we just keep getting strong. And I guarantee you, in a month from now, we’re going to be stronger than right now. We’re going to keep working.
”Today was amazing. We did a lot of things right, but we believe the car could have been a little better. When you look at the big picture and always try to see what you could have done better or different, that’s when you become a great team, and I feel like we’re on our way there.”
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports