also Won Talladega
Run ins with Hamlin, Elliott and this past weekend with Harvick
2 Xfinity wins- won at Vegas in 2018; won at Daytona for Kaulig in 2019
Looked like he was on his way until Sponsor debacle- DC Solar
Went to truck series in 2019 and won 3 races and finished 2nd in standings for Niece Motorsports
One year ago, Ross Chastain entered the NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas without a win in the sport’s top division. But on that March 27th day, the Trackhouse Racing driver claimed his first checkered flag after a wild last lap in which he battled A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman to the finish line. From there, the racing life of the 30-year-old racer from Alva, Florida has taken many twists and turns.
To fully understand Chastain’s current position in the NASCAR world, it is important to look back at the triumphs and struggles that led to this point.
Competing largely in obscurity for lesser funded teams on the NASCAR Xfinity Series, few even knew Chastain’s name much less his story. But in 2018 the driver who comes from a family that produces watermelons got an opportunity to drive in a few events on NASCAR’s second series for Chip Ganassi Racing. With funding from a company called DC Solar, the previously unheard of racer earned a pole position start at Darlington where he then battled with Cup series star Kevin Harvick until a crash ruined his chances.
Later that season, Chastain would put his name on the racing map by claiming an Xfinity victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. At that time, everything seemed to be falling into place for a driver who had captured the imagination of the racing world. However, bad news struck when Federal regulators arrested top DC Solar executives for running what was labeled as a Ponzi scheme.
Suddenly things appeared to be falling apart.
Chastain then moved to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series where, in 2019, he won three races and finished second in the final standings. After a season back on the Xfinity tour with Kaulig Racing, Ganassi again came calling to offer the driver a Cup Series ride in 2021.
It looked as if the rug might have again been pulled from under Chastain’s feet at the end of that campaign when Ganassi sold out to Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing. But the new ownership opted to keep Chastain in the driver’s seat which proved to be a good move for both parties.
As stated above, Chastain pulled into victory lane at COTA last March then went on to score a win at Talladega. But for some, the ‘feel good’ part of the story began to wear off as a number of rather high-profile incidents with some of the sport’s most well known and popular drivers took place.
On more than one occasion, Chastain and Denny Hamlin ran afoul of each other in mishaps that drew a great deal of publicity. A tap to the rear of Chase Elliott’s car at St. Louis sent the most popular driver in the sport spinning then another instance of contact between the two in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway had championship implications.
The run-ins became so frequent that at one point in the season during a race in Richmond, Kyle Busch coined the term “Chastain’d” in reference to having contact with the suddenly controversial figure. The one-time darling of the sport was seeing his luster go dim.
This past weekend in Atlanta, contact from Chastain’s bumper sent Kevin Harvick for a spin which set off a multi-car crash.
Controversy aside, Chastain ultimately made it to the NASCAR Playoffs. And despite promises of retribution from other drivers coming his way, he made it through the first two cuts and eventually to the ‘Round of 8’. But in that final cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway it looked as if it was going to be the end of the No. 1 team’s championship hopes as their Chevrolet was running outside of a transfer position.
Then on the last lap of that race, Chastain pulled off a miracle move when he put his car against the outside wall in the last set of corners and nailed the accelerator passing enough cars to make his way into the Championship 4 for the series finale in Phoenix. A driver who not so long ago had looked like his racing career was in jeopardy of coming to an end was now one of four competitors with a chance to win one of the most coveted titles in motorsports.
The footage of the final lap at Martinsville was one of the most viewed posts in the social media sports world for that weekend. That move also seemed, at least for a while, to win back some of the fanbase who had turned against the driver after his dust ups with popular stars.
Ultimately, Chastain would finish second in the championship race behind eventual 2022 champion Joey Logano.
To show that 2022 was not a fluke and that his Cup career is no flash in the pan, the Trackhouse pilot currently sits third in the standings with a best finish of third at Fontana, California after five the first races of the current season. At least to this point in the new year, it looks as if Chastain and his team have no intention of slowing down.
His first two Cup Series wins, controversy, a moment that will go down in NASCAR history, a near championship, and kicking off the next season as a championship contender seems to at least provide a basic re-cap of all that has gone on in the life of this driver. To say that the past 12 months have made for quite a year for Ross Chastain is probably an understatement.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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