No one ever said that racing is fair. The fastest car doesn’t always win. The team that works the hardest sometimes sees their car caught up in a crash that a driver other than their own caused. And top flight rides sometimes go to drivers who haven’t really proven themselves but do have sponsorship money instead of to drivers who have proven their talents to be worthy of said rides.
We are about to find out if last statement is true regarding Alva, Florida native Ross Chastain. In the three recent NASCAR Xfinity Series events held at Darlington Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Richmond Raceway the 25-year-old demonstrated that he indeed has talent worthy of a top level ride in that series. However, as anyone who has followed the sport of NASCAR racing for any length of time at all knows, Chastain’s talent alone serves as no guarantee that he will land with a championship contending team beyond this point.
In a TV interview immediately following the Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway the temporary driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet stated, “I hope I did enough” in reference to the three race deal he had just completed with the organization that also fields a two-car team on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
In those three efforts in the CGR machine Chastain certainly exhibited a performance level worthy of an opportunity to race with a top tier team on a full-time basis.
At Darlington the driver who regularly pilots the Johnny Davis-owned No. 4 car on the Xfinity Series started from the pole position then led 90 laps prior to tangling with Cup Series regular Kevin Harvick as those two competitors fought for the lead of the race. The watermelon farmer then completely dominated the race in Las Vegas by leading 180 laps on his way to victory lane.
At the completion of the Vegas event, Chastain expressed a feeling that many would have verbalized just a couple of weeks earlier regarding his chances to win a race in NASCAR’s second series. “Holy cow!” he exclaimed. “I’m just a watermelon farmer from Florida. I’m not supposed to do that. If I have to go back to watermelon farming tomorrow… I’ll have no regrets. We did it!”
Finally, Chastain concluded his run with CGR by charging from deep in the field after having to start from the rear because of a problem with the car’s clutch following qualifying all the way to a runner-up finishing position.
Following the Richmond event, Chastain was reflective as he spoke to assembled reporters in the track’s media center.
“It doesn’t seem real to be sitting here,” the driver who currently sits fourth in the Xfinity Series standings declared. “I was initially disappointed with second but as I walked over here it was all coming back to me. I was thinking, ‘Man, what I would have given three months ago to have this opportunity’. And then two months ago talks got real serious and it happened real quick. And not knowing, me internally, not knowing if I could do what I needed to do.”
The temporary driver knew the pressure was on for him to perform at a high level with the team.
“It was said by one of the guys who was walking me through everything at the beginning at CGR, ‘If you go run tenth in these three races we’re all going to quit, we’re going to go home because we don’t know what we’re doing in NASCAR’.” Chastain recalled. “And it was true. If we didn’t perform, we probably didn’t need to be doing it.”
Asked if he felt as if he deserves an opportunity to go full-time racing with CGR or another high level NASCAR operation, Chastain was somewhat philosophical. “I don’t know if anybody deserves it, honestly,” he replied. “I don’t know how you justify that. I said when I got out of the car that I hope I did enough. It’s not just running fast. I tried to integrate myself as much as I could at CGR. And unless they don’t let me on the property, I’m going to keep doing that because there’s a lot I can still learn from them whether I’m in their car or not.”
But the reality is that NASCAR racing is a business dependent on large amounts of financing. Without it, opportunities that could be fizzle away. So no matter what Chastain accomplished in his three races with the Ganassi team, if the funding doesn’t come to be, his time at the top level of the NASCAR Xfinity Series will be limited to three races.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who made a one race comeback of sorts in the Go Bowling 250, lamented Chastain’s situation during his time with the media following his own fourth place effort.
“I’m scared he won’t get an opportunity in a great car,” Junior stated in a serious tone. “I’d love to put him in a car, but I don’t have any money to do it.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook