Super Late Models
Johnny Sauter Racing for Fun and with Family in 2022
Mar 26, 2022
What would you do for you first Cup Series win?
That’s ultimately what this comes down to, right? AJ Allmendinger said it best immediately after the race, when asked about how the battle between himself and Ross Chastain transpired on Sunday at Circuit of the Americas -- that it comes down to doing whatever it takes and still being able to look at yourself in the mirror.
"If you are okay with it, you're okay with it," Allmendinger said. "Each person is different."
When Chastain gets home on Sunday night, he will be staring in the mirror at a Cup Series winner and one who delivered on the promise Justin Marks made in giving him the figurative keys to the Trackhouse No. 1.
Chastain acknowledges that he likely has one coming back his way if Allmendinger ever gets the chance. The move he made to finally rut Allmendinger out of the way also eliminated Alex Bowman from contention. It was a two-for-one special and one the Hendrick Motorsports racer ultimately understands.
Bowman was under a similar spotlight not too long ago at Martinsville after all.
"Put it on a shirt and sell the hell out of it," Bowman said.
Trackhouse founder Justin Marks, a road racer turned stock car driver and team owner, was quick to note that his driver got used up several times before that too. He reminded everyone that Allmendinger put the bumper to Chastain to set off the final sequence.
Again, what are you willing to do in that decisive moment?
"There is so much on the line that you just get to a point where it's like, all right, who wants it the most?" Marks said. "NASCAR has proven over the last four decades that they're going to let these races play out and they're going to let it self-police.
"These guys all wanted it. There's always contact at the end of these races. Honestly, today is just not that much different than what you see a lot of times on green-white-checkers every week. You take that white flag, and it's like who wants it the most?"
What are you willing to do to make it happen?
"When the money is on the line and a playoff spot is on the table, you do what you got to do," Marks said. "That's my opinion."
As for Chastain?
"I didn't draw it up that way in my head," Chastain said. "But, yeah, I did what I did (and) I stand by it."
The triumph was a testament to his will and resolve on Sunday. After leading a race high 31 laps, Chastain simply wouldn’t be denied. On the final restart, he was pushed wide in Turn 1 and fell behind Allmendinger and Tyler Reddick.
Chastain put the bumper to Reddick, who bobbled into Allmendinger, allowing him to drive back to the front. Under renewed pressure from one of the best to ever race a stock car on a road course, Chastain undershot Turn 12 and got nudged out of the way in Turn 15.
Bowman drove by both of them in Turn 17. Then came the moment of truth in Turn 19.
"Honestly, through the carousel I thought with Alex to my right and AJ ahead of me, I didn't think there was a way to win," Chastain said. "When we got to 19, everything happened, and it wasn’t the plan.
"The plan was stay out front when we took the white, and I just babied it. I eased it into 12 too much, and he got to me. It only took a small little bump in 15. I was so loose through there all day. You saw it in qualifying. It's where I slipped up and missed the fast five and was managing that all day, and it only took a small little bit."
That Allmendinger was only a part-time driver not eligible for the playoffs wasn’t a determining factor, nor was their longstanding relationship as friends and former teammates at Kaulig Racing. It was just three friends racing for a win at the highest level.
"I've cost AJ a win at Daytona in the Xfinity Series, and he was obviously a quarter mile away from winning here," Chastain said. "He’s taught me a lot, and I'm sure that our friendship will hurt for this. I feel like I had started to win some of his friendship back. It took a while.
"I hate that because I've lived through that in my career for 12th place in Xfinity. I've fought, and I've roughed people up and gotten into people. I've wrecked Justin Marks. He was going to win Road America in 2017.
"I wrecked him and James Davidson for no reason. It's not lost on me that I make some of the same mistakes."
But this time was different. Hugely different.
"I'm just staring down a Cup Series win," Chastain said. "I just couldn't let that go."
When Marks first hired Chastain, he was told to let go of that underdog mentality. Marks said he and Pitbull only hired winners and champions and that he was that caliber of driver. In his view, this was not a perfect win.
"I don't view myself as a Cup Series winning race car driver," Chastain said. "I just feel like I have to work to get there, and I'm not there yet. There's so many mistakes I make.
"There's mental, but physical. There's the shifting, the braking, just the feedback in practice. There's so many ways to mess this stuff up, and I haven't done it perfect yet."
But to his boss’ point, there isn’t always a perfect way, and Allmendinger wasn’t exactly executing perfect race craft either.
It just came down to how much did Ross Chastain want that win, and he wanted it bad.