By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
Though it would have been one week too late to make the playoffs, Ross Chastain was that close to scoring his first Cup Series victory Sunday night at Darlington Raceway.
Restarting third on the final restart of the Southern 500, Chastain was unable to maneuver around second-place Kyle Larson in time to have a run at leader Denny Hamlin. The result, a third-place finish.
For Chastain, though it didn’t win him the race, it was the choose rule prior to the final restart that gave him the best shot at the win.
“Earlier in the race, I restarted second next to Kyle [Larson] and I just lit [the tires] up,” Chastain said. “I’ve struggled with that my entire career. I said I was going to take third if I had the opportunity again, and I did.
“We were just too loose firing off. Kurt [Busch, teammate] was, too. Through Turns 1 and 2 were just on ice for me. To run the top was even looser so I ran the bottom.”
Not competing in the playoffs in 2021, Chastain is completing the season with Chip Ganassi Racing before jumping to Trackhouse Racing in 2022. For Chastain, a Southern 500 win would have thrilled both himself and team owner Chip Ganassi, however, the short-run speed wasn’t in their favor.
“Kyle got by me, but I could not have done what he did,” he said. “I would have lost either way. We were really good on the long run.
“It wasn’t tire wear, it was just [about] what was best for me and the bottom was the best for me. We gave up a row and a spot. But we would have been fifth or sixth if we had taken the outside lane. I’ve got to get better on restarts.”
Despite the loss, Chastain earned his third top five and seventh top 10 of 2021. More than anything, Chastain was excited to race the dominant Larson for a race win.
“That’s really, really cool to say we were close in speed to the No. 5 car this year! That’s crazy,” he said. “We were close at Nashville, close here. Similar package, so I’m seeing a trend.
“We’ve shown glimpses of [improvement]. There’s not one thing, just a lot of work. And a lot of money [laughs].”