LAS VEGAS – Ross Chastain wishes Sunday’s South Point 400 was a 395-mile race, but takes significant pride and confidence going into the final stretch in pursuit of a NASCAR Cup Series championship as a serious challenger.
With less than 40 laps remaining, pit strategy came into play with some drivers electing to stay out for the final stretch. Chastain, among other Playoff contenders, chose to claim track position while others rolled the dice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by coming to pit road for fresher tires. That proved to be the edge when Joey Logano made the move around Chastain with three laps remaining.
“I’m sure I can look back and find little things (to improve),” Chastain shared. “An obvious one is when he got inside of me in (Turns) 3 and 4. If I just don’t commit to the top on entry, I just thought I could rip the top and stay in front of him one more time.
“The low hanging watermelon here is going to be the entry of Turn 3 when he got inside of me. If I just continue to air-block him and just don’t worry about ripping a line that’s best for my car, but I just committed to what was best for my car that lap and it was the top, and he got just inside to my left rear door. From there, we both drove into (Turn) 1 so deep and I had the wheel cranked all the way left, and just didn’t have quite enough turn with our older tires.”
Some may say heartbreak for the former watermelon farmer, who previously won at Vegas in 2017 when driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. But for Chastain, he couldn’t help but smile with a bit of a shrug.
“It’s a really, really, really good kind of hurt, but it hurts,” Chastain shrugged. “I mean, you want to win, but I just ran second in a Playoff race and we competed all day long, and did almost everything right. To be competing for wins – and I hope I’m racing that guy (Logano) for wins in the Cup series for a long time to come – I think it’s going to be a fun career if that’s the case.”
Early in the race, Chastain was stuck just outside the top 10 and missed valuable points at the end of Stage 1. That all changed when he and Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez took the lead during Stage 2, leading to strong potential in the final stage when it all counted.
“Just all of it, the cadence of the race,” he continued. “Early on, going from 11th then back to the teens, and then fighting back up. And our pit crew, my goodness, gaining handfuls of spots half-dozen at a time. You just don’t see that in Cup racing these days. For me to have some mistakes on pit road, I’m struggling to do a few things, to clean up a few things in the box for my side of the pit stops. Other than that though, I’ll take away so much from racing at the front like this.”
For Chastain, it’s a dream come true not only to race at the highest level of stock car racing but to be battling neck and neck with drivers that he watched race ahead of him. He’s shared all year how much he’s learned, whether it be driving styles or surprise moves, and storing those in his mental bank to prepare for the next event.
It is no doubt that Chastain has been one of the most improved drivers in recent years, and with the Next Gen car by NASCAR, it seems to have played in his and his team’s favor.
“It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve watched my heroes and icons of the sport do this, and I just want a chance. I think maybe Mark Martin said it, ‘I don’t want them to give me the trophy; I want them to give me a chance.’ Our Tootsies Chevy was good enough to do that. There’s things we’d like to do better, but they gave me everything I needed to win today and that’s what makes it hurt is that we came up just a little bit short.”
It has been a roller coaster ride for the rookie team. After buying out Ganassi’s team, both drivers won their way into the Playoffs from first career victories in the 2022 regular season. But once the Playoffs began, the team has only accumulated six total top-10 finishes in the first six Playoff races.
Despite strong runs, it would be Suarez eliminated last weekend at the Charlotte Roval due to a mechanical issue preventing the car from performing at its fullest potential. Chastain would advance by a mere five points.
Looking ahead, the rest of the Round of 8 holds another intermediate circuit with Homestead-Miami Speedway and the legendary short track of Martinsville Speedway. Either enough points or a win will etch his name into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway where NASCAR will crown their 2022 champions across all three national touring divisions.
“Losing today hurts really, really good. We’re competing for wins in the Cup series in the Playoffs, relevant, leading laps, both Daniel and I. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t want the trophy; I want a chance for it. Now that we’re here, I’m human and it hurts to lose, but we’re gonna go to Homestead and have some fun.”
As with all roller coasters though, what goes down must come up. And Chastain wants the entire field to know that they’re still competing to win.
“We’ve never went anywhere. We’ve been here the whole time.”