By Jenna Fryer
AP Motor Racing Editor

CHARLOTTE — Just a year ago, an exasperated Justin Marks sat on the podium at the Nashville Superspeedway. Two days earlier, he said he was surprised to learn that he was once again excluded from the sale of two NASCAR charters.

He sat alongside Trackhouse Racing partner Pitbull, who was never the host of his next “I don’t know about you but I feel good” tour. The Grammy winner felt good: Nashville was buzzing with the long-awaited return of NASCAR and people were celebrating all over town — proof for Pitbull that he was in the midst of a post-pandemic renaissance.

That charter thing with the NASCAR team? No worries for Pitbull. He lets Marks run the business, while Pitbull helps raise the energy around the new, hip team.

Well, Marks got it. A year later, wow, Trackhouse feels great.

The sophomore team returns to their pseudo-home following Daniel Suarez’s first career win. Only the fifth Cup Series winner born outside the United States, the Mexican dispatched Trackhouse in the only weekend off NASCAR’s 38-race schedule with Suarez and Ross Chastain already qualified for the playoffs.

You see, when Marks last June lost those charters — Spire Motorsports sold them to someone else — he got tired of playing the game and made the purchase of his life. He bought the entire NASCAR operations from Chip Ganassi last July and landed not one but two charters and an organization with two decades of experience.

Trackhouse went from startup to real competitor overnight.

The emergence of the team centered around two underdog drivers who fought their way into NASCAR’s top series, then spent years looking for a team that believed it could win races.

At the end of the 2020 season, Marks picked Suarez, who was with his third different team in three years.

“I knew in 2020 that I had hit rock bottom. In my mind, it couldn’t get any worse than this,” Suarez said of his only season with underfunded Gaunt Brothers Racing. horrible on the circuit, but it made me who I am now, it made me stronger. I knew it couldn’t be worse. After that, Trackhouse came to the table.

Marks saw the potential and built Trackhouse around Suarez and Travis Mack, a crew chief who noted last week that he was fired during the NASCAR rest week four years ago. Now he was on vacation as a first-time winner.

So much has changed for a team in a calendar year, and Suarez is expected to announce a contract extension ahead of Sunday’s race.

Marks still hopes to be the NASCAR team from Nashville; its original plan was to operate Trackhouse from a downtown tourist location by 2023. The purchase of Ganassi’s turnkey operation changed the plan.

“That was the strategy when we were just buying a charter and then buying a charter became an acquisition of Chip Ganassi Racing, which went from building a business in Nashville to uprooting a business and to his move to Nashville, which was no longer viable,” Marc said.

Location doesn’t matter that much for what Marks and Pitbull are trying to build. Trackhouse races Sunday with Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge once again sponsoring Suarez’s No. 99 Chevy in a strong partnership between a famed Nashville establishment and a burgeoning sports and entertainment entity.

Jockey’s, meanwhile, will debut Chastain’s car for the first of six races as Trackhouse continues to add marketing partners to its portfolio and seeks creative opportunities to showcase its team. Trackhouse will host an hour of live pit stops on Thursday outside Tootsie’s.

“Trackhouse is more than a racing team,” Marks explained. “It’s a brand that we’re trying to inspire, we’re trying to activate at the point of intersection between entertainment and motorsport. It’s always in the business development strategy to have a physical presence in Nashville. It it’s about figuring out what that looks like with our goals as a race team.

“Nashville is so important to us. I think we have some momentum to do something special there.