LAS VEGAS -- The first two races of the NASCAR Cup Series season have provided a clear indication that Trackhouse Racing's breakout campaign last year was no fluke.
Ross Chastain won two races in 2022, showed excellent speed throughout the year and finished second to champion Joey Logano in the final standings.
Trackhouse teammate Daniel Suarez claimed his first victory in the series on the road course at Sonoma Raceway, qualified for the playoffs and finished 10th in the Cup standings.
Both drivers appear to have weathered the down time of the offseason without losing any speed or motivation as they approach the third event of the year, Sunday's Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Suarez ran seventh in the Daytona 500 and followed that with a fourth-place result on Auto Club Speedway's 2.0-mile configuration.
Chastain was ninth at Daytona after winning the second stage. At Fontana, he swept the first two stages, led a race-high 91 laps and finished third behind Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.
For the first time, Chastain leads the series standings -- by one point over Joey Logano -- heading to a track where he finished third in last year's spring race and second to Logano in the playoffs.
"Well, I'm certainly not used to it," Chastain said of his position in the standings. "It feels good to me, but I think it also tells the story of a bigger picture with Trackhouse being fairly young and all the people there working together to help us get to this point.
"I certainly didn't get here on my own. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and it's showing. I don't want to get ahead of myself though. This is a long season, and there are so many variables, so we'll just keep doing what we're doing, and we'll see how the season shakes out."
Busch, likewise, brings a strong sense of motivation to his hometown track, and last week's victory at Fontana in his second points race with Richard Childress Racing may likely be a harbinger of things to come.
Busch has finished third three times and fourth once in his last four starts at Las Vegas, but his only victory there came in 2009 when he won from the pole.
Given that Busch is running both Friday night's Truck Series race and Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race, he'll have plenty of seat time on the 1.5-mile speedway as he seeks his second Cup win at LVMS.
After winning his 102nd Xfinity Series race in his 362nd start on July 10, 2021, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch "retired" from the series as the runaway career leader in victories.
But his move to Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet has prompted a return to the Xfinity ranks with Kaulig Racing, an organization that was a suitor for Busch's NASCAR Cup Series services before he opted for RCR.
Busch won all five of his Xfinity starts in 2021. He'll try to extend his winning streak to six straight in Saturday's Alsco Uniforms 300 (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
"Just running the Xfinity Series again and being able to get back in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing is going to be fun, and I look forward to that," Busch said. "Being with a new team and a new group of guys, (it's great to have) the chance to go out there and help their program and develop them a little bit and give them some of my expertise."
Doing triple duty in Trucks, Xfinity and Cup, Busch will have to beat John Hunter Nemechek, one of his former drivers at Kyle Busch Motorsports, to keep his Xfinity streak alive.
By a matter of inches, Nemechek finished second to Austin Hill in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Last Sunday, he won the rain-delayed Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway.
Like Busch, Nemechek will be racing Friday night in the Truck Series.
"It's going to be interesting racing," Nemechek said. "It seems like it's going to be way cooler temperatures than what we're used to. The track will definitely be gripped up. I'm excited to get there and keep racing.
"I have a lot of confidence in myself right now, and I'm ready to go get after it. I feel like I'll be able to learn some things from the truck race Friday night that hopefully we can apply to the Xfinity race on Saturday to try to go get two wins this weekend."
Reigning Truck Series champion Zane Smith started the season with a victory at Daytona.
After a week off, he'll try for a second straight victory in Friday night's Victoria's Voice Foundation 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Smith has something to prove at the track. In last year's race, he ran second to Chandler Smith but was disqualified and demoted to 36th for a lug nut violation.
"It's a long season, but we're off to a great start," Smith said. "Just like last season, it feels good. The team worked hard during the offseason, and it was rewarded at Daytona.
"But Vegas, we have some unfinished business there. It was frustrating leaving there with a penalty last year. Everyone on the team wants to get this win. We were fast last year, and I hope we can make up for last year."
Standing between Smith and victory, however, are two formidable "ringers," Kyle Busch and John Hunter Nemechek. Busch has two wins at his hometown track, and Nemechek claimed his lone victory there in 2021.
--By NASCAR NewsWire, Special to Field Level Media