By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer
FONTANA, Calif. – For the first time in his career, Ross Chastain swept both Stages in the Pala Casino 400 in the final 2-mile race at Auto Club Speedway.
However, he was out-dueled by Kyle Busch and finished third in NASCAR’s west coast swing start.
“When he caught up to us, I was really loose,” Chastain shared. “We made a good step on that pit stop to tighten it up, but I don’t think our balance was the issue. We just needed a little more raw grip, mechanical and aero grip. I felt like we stayed pretty similar, and he got a lot better the last half of that race.”
Restarts saw lots of chaos, including a 10-car pileup on a restart on lap 88 that retired four of those drivers. Some instances saw four-wide passing, slidejobs, and even cars grazing the wall on corner exits.
Last year, Chastain saw himself in the middle of the wreckfest. One of those was a hard hit during practice in the middle of Turn 4 where he lost a right front tire and broke the suspension, sending his car straight into the outside wall. While he was able to get out of the car, it was one of the first hard hits with the new car NASCAR introduced to the Cup Series last year. Officials immediately began thoroughly inspecting the car with help from some Trackhouse Racing employees.
“You look back last year, we were last in the (Daytona) 500 and 29th here,” he reflected. “To be where we’re at, to come back from an incredible crash – one that I still feel very blessed and fortunate to be standing here today, which is a testament to this NextGen Car – besides winning today, I couldn’t be much happier with how these two races have went.”
He should be happy a year later. Last year, he was outside of the top-20 in driver points. Leaving Fontana, he has won three of the four stages and leads the standings over reigning champion Joey Logano.