Welcome to my new weekly series highlighting notes in the sport of NASCAR. This week we’re talking Trackhouse Racing, my friend Dale Jr., and Kyle Busch.
Trackhouse Racing is the surprise of 2022 so far
Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez are up front often, proving to everyone that with the right equipment they’re not only capable, they’re consistent. Chastain has two victories already. I spent time with him last year on his family’s watermelon farm down in Florida, while he was still driving for Chip Ganassi. I could sense then that he’s full of gratitude for the opportunity, while carrying a chip on his shoulder as big as those fields to prove his talent. He’s doing it now. And I’ll be fully honest: I didn’t expect this from this organization this early. Trackhouse team owner — my buddy Justin Marks — is a fearless dreamer who is equally fearless to facilitate those dreams. He tried his hand at driving racecars, but money talks and he didn’t have enough money. Justin’s greatest talent is people. He’s a servant leader. And when someone with his disposition partners with a megastar like Pit Bull, you wonder how it’ll go. We’ve seen superstar entertainers enter the sport before, many times, and they were here and gone quicker than a Bristol qualifying-run. But not this bunch. This bunch is different. You wouldn’t look at Chastain and Suarez on paper and go, those guys can run up front with a brand new team and a brand new car. But I’m not sure starting fresh with a brand new car wasn’t part of Marks’ design. Because NASCAR implemented a brand new car design, Trackhouse didn’t start at a disadvantage from everyone else informationally. Had they started this team during a year that didn’t include a new racecar, they’d have been racing against teams with reams and reams of notes from years of experience racing a specific car, its tendencies and the best ways to set it up and tune on it. This was a blank slate and everybody was handed an empty canvas and a dry brush. And Trackhouse is painting pretty little watermelons with the best of ’em.
Kyle Busch’s future is uncertain
As of Talladega weekend, Busch remained unsigned to continue racing for team owner Joe Gibbs. Busch, who is among the most-naturally gifted driving talents the sport has ever seen, discussed his contract situation with the NASCAR media corps as best he could, though he offered few concrete answers when asked about his future. That future is impacted notably by the pending departure of longtime No. 18 team sponsor M&M/Mars, which had backed Busch’s team financially since he joined JGR in 2008. Gibbs said he expects to retain Busch, and by all means the Hall of Fame owner wants to do so. Winning at the Cup Series level is extremely difficult at all, much less at a championship-level. And Busch’s 60 Cup wins are the most by any active driver. Plus, his pair of Cup titles make him the only active driver with multiple championships. Across the three national series, he has accumulated 223 victories — the most ever. Busch said at Talladega that sponsorship still had to be secured. If ever there was a sellable resume, it’s Busch’s, right? One other note that may or may not matter in this equation — the Gibbs organization thrives on creating business-to-business relationships between the myriad sponsors on all four of its Cup teams that created added value to those partners, and sometimes piecing those partnerships together can provide a hell of a jigsaw puzzle.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most important voice in NASCAR
This is not breaking news. I get it. But we were reminded Sunday when Earnhardt joined Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer in the FOX Sports broadcast booth that his voice carries more weight than any other in the garage. And, at least for me, the reason is the passionate delivery of the information. Bowyer’s Every Man appeal and unbridled enthusiasm is relatable and undeniably appreciated by the NASCAR fan base. Bowyer’s a guy you feel like you could drink a beer with. Because Bowyer is absolutely a guy you could drink a beer with. Tony Stewart was awesome for FOX at the Daytona 500. But the thing that separates Earnhardt from the others is the intersection where his passion meets his pedigree. He was the most popular driver in the sport for nearly two decades. And there is NO ONE alive who loves the sport and champions the sport and its history more than Junior. His father was the most-revered and most-polarizing driver of all time, and Junior carries his name and his legacy everywhere he goes. As we stated on the Marty Smith Podcast last week — the fact that NBC allowed Dale to join the FOX booth says so much about where NASCAR is. It is an entire industry, from the sanctioning body’s executive-level to the team-level to the driving corps-level to the sponsor-level to the network broadcast-level, working in unison to grow the sport. This isn’t to infer that everybody agrees with everything that’s going on. Because they don’t. But this level of unified forward momentum is unprecedented, as far as I can remember. And as a result, the fans are winning.