By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
Prior to Ross Chastain’s first win of 2023 at Nashville Superspeedway, it had been an uncharacteristically quiet year for the team co-owned by Pitbull and Justin Marks, and when they were being talked about, it was for mostly the wrong reasons.
Since smashing watermelon on concrete, winning has been contagious across Trackhouse.
The pressure was on for Daniel Suarez entering Atlanta Motor Speedway after Shane Van Gisbergen helped Trackhouse go back-to-back in his NASCAR Cup Series debut following the inaugural race at the Chicago Street Course. Marks even found victory in the Trans Am Series just days after his team’s monumental feat.
While Suarez couldn’t quite extend Trackhouse’s win streak to three, he delivered a next-best effort by finishing second to William Byron in the rain-shortened Quaker State 400.
“We’ll take it,” Suarez said. “I’m trying to look to the positives of today. My team needed something like this to happen, because we’ve been really fast lately and I haven’t been able to get the results that we deserve. So this is very good for our group.”
Going into the weekend, Suarez had three-straight finishes of 12th or worse and sat 17th in the standings with eight races remaining until the postseason.
However, he saw Atlanta as an opportunity to rewrite the narrative by capitalizing on the benefits of superspeedway-style racing mixed with proven results between him and Chastain at the reconfigured track.
Although Suarez wouldn’t have minded seeing the race play out the remaining 75 laps, he believes he would’ve had a hard time contending for his first win of the season without his teammate, who was one of only three drivers that failed to finish the race.
“I think that today we saw that it wasn’t easy to get a good-handling car, and [that] was very important,” Suarez said. “I [also] was surprised at how bumpy the race track was. But maybe it’s us being more aggressive with it and the setup of the cars. Overall, a decent day. We have to continue to build.”
A night that ended with Suarez’s first top-five finish since Auto Club Speedway back in February (and his best outing since winning at Sonoma Raceway last year) simultaneously concluded with a much needed big points performance after starting 26th.
Unable to place top-10 in either stage, Suarez still walked away with 35-points, which was enough to rank him tied for 15th just three points above the cutline with fourth-place finisher Michael McDowell, who also put up his best result of the season.
Bubba Wallace and Ty Gibbs took the biggest hits after both being inside the top-16 in points to start the weekend. Wallace now sits 17th after a 25th-place day, while the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender dropped three spots and 26-points out of a playoff berth in placing 34th.
Wedged between the pair of Toyotas 13-points back is A.J. Allmendinger, who also ironically wound up in the middle of Suarez and McDowell in third once the race concluded. He actually earned the fourth-most points from the event with 40.
With a second-straight playoff appearance in mind – and a win – Suarez could be in an optimal position to sustain momentum going into the final seven races remaining in the regular season.
Before heading to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Suarez is scheduled to take part in a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway and participate in a late models race at Thunder Road Speedbowl.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half, it’s that extra seat time is invaluable with the seventh-generation stock car, and it often translates to success.
Suarez looks to build off his runner-up finish and keep Trackhouse pointed in the right direction with the Crayon 301 from Loudon on July 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network. The race will also be broadcast on the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
“It definitely feels good,” Suarez said. “I feel like obviously we have a long way to go, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”