DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP)Ross Chastain signed a long-term contract extension with Trackhouse Racing announced ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500 as NASCAR’s hottest young team officially shored up its lineup deep into the future.

The Chastain deal announced Thursday is long enough that ”his beard will be gray” at the end of the extension, Trackhouse president Ty Norris quipped. Chastain, who turned 30 in December, is in his second season driving the No. 1 Chevrolet for Trackhouse, the team owned by former driver Justin Marks and entertainer Pitbull.

Chastain, known as the ”Melon Man” because he is an eighth-generation watermelon farmer, was basically inherited when Marks bought out Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2021 season. Marks kept Chastain on the roster, which also includes Daniel Suarez, who was Trackhouse’s first driver.

”It’s taken a lot of years, a lot of hard work and sacrifice, plus a lot of help from a lot of people, but I can safely say I have found a home at Trackhouse Racing,” Chastain said. ”There is nowhere in the world I would rather be and nothing I would rather do than race the No. 1 Chevrolet in NASCAR for Justin and the people at Trackhouse Racing.”

Trackhouse has now locked down both of its budding stars.

Suarez on Wednesday announced his own long-term extension with Trackhouse. Both drivers won their first career Cup races last season – Suarez became the first Mexican-born winner at NASCAR’s top level – and qualified for the playoffs.

Chastain made it all the way to the championship finale and finished second to Joey Logano in the Cup standings. He used a video game-style move that has since been banned by NASCAR to snatch the fourth and final spot in NASCAR’s championship race.

The move went viral inside and outside of motor sports, but NASCAR drivers thought Chastain’s deliberate crashing into the wall to use the momentum to earn a better finish was poor form. But it was indicative of how hard Chastain has worked as a journeyman driver to land among NASCAR’s elite.

”Ross Chastain is the type of driver and type of person we want representing Trackhouse Racing, our employees and our corporate partners,” Marks said. ”You saw what Ross did with us in just our first year together and we think the future is even brighter. He brings a determination, dedication and commitment to his job on and off the track that uplifts everyone in our shop. I’m proud he is part of our organization.”

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