By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
It was a career day for Ross Chastain in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as he won a Stage, and led the most laps.
The race at Las Vegas was one for the Trackhouse Racing driver to bounce back. He crashed in practice at Auto Club Speedway, and then spun in the race. At Vegas, however, he never put a wheel out of place.
Chastain slowly worked his way up the running order after starting 18th. Just past halfway, he took the lead for the first time in the race. After losing the lead on pit road, he recaptured the top spot with five laps to go in the second Stage. The Alva, FL native went on to earn Trackhouse Racing their first Stage win as an organization. In total, Chastain led 83 laps, more than doubling his career laps led total to date.
“It’s good, we’ve come back from last week where I completely destroyed a Gen 7 car, spun out in the race for no reason, and Justin Marks took me for lunch this week and he told me, ‘Quit trying so hard,’” explained Chastain. “A lot of the thoughts that I had today was just neutral thinking. A car that fast makes it easy, but even at the end there where we lined up fifth, I knew it was going to be tough because it was only two laps.
“Just never put my car in a position to wreck. The closest we were was when Christopher spun in front of me. I don’t feel like I made any mistakes, will learn to keep up with the track better.”
Chastain maintained the lead until the caution waved in the middle of green flag pit stops. Though he never regained the lead, he battled with leader Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. over the next 40 laps. A late-race caution brought the field back to pit road. Crew chief Phil Surgen opted for four tires, as did the bulk of the field.
Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, and William Byron each took two tires. On the restart, that allowed Bowman and Larson to gap the field long enough. Meanwhile Busch and Byron battled for third. Chastain took advantage of their momentum loss to slip by for third when the checkered flag waved.
“Two tires, no [I didn’t expect it to work], but when there’s three of them, they just had us all blocked,” admitted Chastain. “Kyle (Busch) really wanted to get by the 24 on the last lap. Other than that, I think he might have had something for them. He just couldn’t quite clear them with the momentum. That’s what teammates are for. Daniel (Suarez) needed me up there last week and I needed Daniel today.”
At Auto Club Speedway, a spin kept Chastain from helping his Trackhouse teammate. Suarez was collected in an accident at Las Vegas, preventing him from aiding Chastain.
For Chastain, the third-place finish is his first top-five this season. It’s also the 29-year-old’s fourth top-five in the NASCAR Cup Series and 42nd across NASCAR’s three National Touring Series.
The top-five rockets Chastain from 36th in points to 20th. He’s 51-points behind leader Larson. Chastain is just seven markers behind the cutoff for the playoffs, held by Kevin Harvick.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Rachel Schuoler / Kickin’ the Tires.