Trackhouse Racing Team debuted PROJECT91 during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, and the No. 91 was victorious in only its third start.
In addition to adding a second car for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, which they did upon acquiring Chip Ganassi Racing’s operation, Trackhouse Racing Team also added the PROJECT91 initiative, which is designed to give internationally renowned race car drivers the chance to compete in Cup Series events.
PROJECT91 is essentially a third car, the No. 91 Chevrolet, which the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned team run in select events. The car debuted at Watkins Glen Interntional in August 2022 with former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen behind the wheel, and Raikkonen returned at Circuit of the Americas this past March.
Three-time Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen made his Cup Series debut behind the wheel of the No. 91 Chevrolet in the inaugural race on the streets of Chicago, Illinois in July.
He became the first driver in more than six decades to win in his first NASCAR Cup Series start.
The competitiveness of Trackhouse Racing Team and the fact that a driver with zero NASCAR experience could get behind the wheel of the No. 91 Chevrolet, qualify third, and win his first ever race has naturally opened up the eyes of many worldwide as to the possibilities of PROJECT91.
But those possibilities will have to wait.
Following van Gisbergen’s victory, Marks noted that there were no more planned starts for PROJECT91 this year, and while they did bring the No. 91 Chevrolet back for van Gisbergen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August, that was its third appearance of the season.
He noted that “beyond probably three races, it starts to become a third team”.
"“It starts to really kind of drain — not drain, but take resources from the No. 1 and the No. 99 car, which is what we’re really focused on at Trackhouse, getting both of those cars in the championship, being able to make a championship run.“The last thing I want to do is have PROJECT91 be a drain on that or take anything away from that. So I think three is really sort of the limit for us. If we ever expand to a third full-time team, it’s good that we’re going through this exercise right now with the No. 91, because we’re doing sort of three teams’ worth of work in the shop as we lead into the PROJECT91 races.”"
Daniel Suarez, who is in his third season behind the wheel of the No. 99 Chevrolet, failed to qualify for his second consecutive postseason, but Ross Chastain, who is in his second season behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet, won at Nashville Superspeedway in June to secure his spot.
With Suarez out, one might suggest that PROJECT91 could return for the road course race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval this weekend. However, the No. 91 Chevrolet is not on the entry list, and the team have no desire to divert any sort of attention away from trying to get Chastain from the round of 12 to the round of 8 for the second straight year.
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is offering fans an instant $200 just for signing up and betting $5, lists Chastain, who finished in second place in last year’s championship standings, as the 10th favorite to win this year’s championship at +3000, as he sits below the round of 8 cut line heading into the round of 12 finale.
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It remains to be seen what role PROJECT91 will play in Trackhouse Racing Team’s future beyond 2023. They have signed van Gisbergen for 2024, but that deal is said to be for various races in NASCAR’s three national series as opposed to a full-time Cup Series ride.
Will van Gisbergen drive the No. 91 Chevrolet when he competes in the Cup Series? In the races he isn’t in the car, is the door open for other international stars? And where does the recently signed — and loaned out — Zane Smith factor into this whole equation?