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Kickin The Tires

OPINION: Field of dreams turns into nightmare for Ross Chastain but it’s the right call

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

From grinding his way through start and park teams to losing a big break with a top Xfinity Series ride when the sponsor was raided by the FBI and shuttered for alleged criminal violations – to say Ross Chastain has experienced his fair share of misfortune would be an understatement.

Despite the setback of losing big-time sponsor, DC Solar, when the feds raided their corporate offices in December 2018 and later learning the feds were investigating the company for as an alleged $100-million-plus Ponzi scheme, Chastain handled things as well as could be expected. He returned to his ride at JD Motorsports, picked up a ride in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and decided to run a truck for Niece Motorsports.

Then, just two weeks ago he released a statement he would forego his championship points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and try for a championship run in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – a mid-season decision that surprised pretty much the entire sport.

It was the makings of another chapter in the Cinderella feel-good story of Chastain’s life and how he always seems to bounce back and take setbacks with dignity. No doubt, a few of the other drivers in NASCAR Top 3 touring series could learn from how Chastain handles things.

But the latest blow is tough to swallow for most fans, drivers and even the sanctioning body itself. Chastain dominated the truck race at Iowa, winning both stages and taking the checkered flag. His plan to seek the truck series champion looked like it was about to fall into place, at least, until post-race inspection.

As Chastain was sitting at the podium in the winner’s press conference, word was already circulating through the few members of NASCAR’s full-time media in attendance at Iowa Speedway.

“There’s something wrong with the 44.”

“Waiting for another trip through inspection.”

It wasn’t looking good and word began to spread that NASCAR was about to be forced into implementing its new policy to strip the win away from a driver whose race vehicle fails certain elements of post-race inspection. This wouldn’t be an “encumbered win” it would be a disqualification. The word “encumbered” has been eliminated from the NASCAR vocabulary and for good reason, after drivers drove cheated-up cars to race wins and suffered no real setbacks from penalties. For example, Kevin Harvick had a cheated-up rear windshield and a counterfeit spoiler in numerous races but NASCAR didn’t take away his wins.

Most people thought the first driver to get caught-up in NASCAR’s new DQ policy would be Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr or Harvick. You know, “the usual suspects.” But that wasn’t the case. The feel-good story of the weekend was about to change and despite it being a bad thing it was good for NASCAR.

Chastain would be the “first victim” of the new policy but would he? Would NASCAR have the integrity to turn Chastain’s Cinderella story into a passage from Grimm’s Fairy Tales? Several people, including myself, questioned how much “tolerance” would be given. Would the truck somehow, miraculously, meet the minimum height requirements after being allowed to roll through inspection two more times?

Sadly, for Chastain, his Niece Motorsports truck didn’t pass on any attempt. NASCAR was forced to make a tough call. Do they disqualify Chastain or look the other way? If they look the other way, how can anyone take the overstuffed NASCAR rulebook seriously? Rules are rules, right? You can’t just pick and choose which ones you want to enforce because it could mess up the storyline.

At the end of the day, the No. 44 truck was “extremely low,” according to truck series director Brad Moran. And the call was made. Moran added, “it was not a close call.”

Chastain would be the first driver disqualified under the new rules, Brett Moffitt would be declared the winner and the entire field would move up one position as Chastain was put in last place.

One can only wonder what went through the minds of NASCAR executives. They were in a no-win scenario. They knew fans would be angry and lash out over their decision but it was the right decision to make. It was the only decision they could make. Had NASCAR officials turned their collective heads and looked the other way, stock racing would no longer be looked at as a sport but as sport’s entertainment. And while NASCAR is entertaining, it is not the WWE.

So, kudos to NASCAR for having the integrity to do the right thing, no matter how difficult. And let’s hope this is the last time a win has to be stripped from a driver even though we probably all know that won’t be the case. As for Chastain, it’s time something falls right for this guy. A win at Word Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway) this weekend near St. Louis would go a long way in soothing the sting he suffered in corn country.

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