Ty Norris has heard NASCAR fans cheer and boo Ross Chastain, who seems to be making more enemies in the race.
The president of Trackhouse Racing doesn’t care: Norris thinks NASCAR should have 40 other drivers like its «Melon Man.»
«Ross is a driver who has been comfortable making other drivers uncomfortable,» Norris said. «He doesn’t mind going three wide. He doesn’t mind going against the wall. He doesn’t mind sticking his nose in there when he wants the space.»
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That aggression has crossed the line at times for some. Chastain hit Noah Gragson after the race at Kansas earlier this year. Chastain also spun Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s most popular driver of the past five years, early in the final stage last year, costing Elliott a second title shot.
His on-track encounters are plentiful, and that kind of drive and emotion from Chastain helps make NASCAR more interesting, even if others are upset. Norris made it clear that Chastain isn’t just there to stir the pot; he is trying to win and challenge for the Cup Series championship.
That competitive drive kicks in every time Chastain gets behind the wheel.
«I think it comes across in a very positive way,» Norris said.
Trackhouse Racing needs Chastain to start by winning his first race this season, which would lock him into the playoffs for the second year in a row. He enters Sunday’s race at Nashville Superspeedway fourth in the Cup standings as the series resumes after the only bye week in the 38-race season. Only 32 points separate the top seven drivers.
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Racing well in Nashville also means a little more with Music City, officially the home base for Trackhouse Racing. Trackhouse will even have Taylor Lee, who competed on «The Voice,» perform a pre-race acoustic set in the team trucks.
Chastain, who conducted tire tests at Bristol Motor Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday, doesn’t see any added pressure competing in Nashville, where he finished fifth last year in a weather-delayed race. Winning is the most important thing.
«This is about the end for us,» Chastain said.
Trackhouse owner Justin Marks lives just outside Nashville and had set his sights this year for his equipment to operate in Music City. The store remains in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the team headquarters will move from suburban Nashville to the center of the entertainment district at the end of this season.
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The racing team has also continued a local tie-in with Tootsie’s famed Orchid Lounge, which will once again be all over Daniel Suarez’s car for Sunday night’s race.
Only the fifth Cup Series winner born outside of the United States, the Mexican driver is yet to win this season and is three points shy of final playoff position with 10 races remaining as he attempts to reach the postseason for a second. consecutive year. Suárez finished seventh at the 1.33-mile track in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 2021 when it hosted the first Cup Series race in 37 years.
Norris said Trackhouse employees understand that Nashville means more than just the start of the playoff push.
«I feel like they put in just a few extra hours, a little bit more care to make sure that whatever they can do is positive to affect the outcome of this race,» Norris said.
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NBC takes over coverage on the NASCAR stretch of the season, and Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. said it’s been a great season with a lot of stories. A year ago, it was the debut of the Next Gen car that brought challenges and problems for the teams.
This year, the drama stems from drivers’ disagreements on the track.
«It’s been a fascinating year,» Earnhardt said. «I’m sure that, like every year, that’s going to get bigger and bigger as we get closer to the playoffs. The pressure will build. The risk-taking will build. The excitement that that creates for us will be plentiful.»
Norris worked for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and recalled an event where the late Dale Earnhardt noted that the fans were split 50-50 between cheers and boos. Norris isn’t comparing «Melon Man» to «The Intimidator,» but he did point out that his former boss told him that even fans who hated him still loved him as a host.
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Chastain’s challenge is to win more races and an elusive Cup title. His best Cup Series finish of the season so far came last year when he finished second behind Joey Logano.
Until then, Chastain is certainly not boring.
«What I will say is that Ross is probably as close to old-school racing as we’ve seen coming,» Norris said.