By David Morgan, Associate Editor
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ross Chastain noted he and his team were going to “Press the Attack” in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs and starting with Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the driver of the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet held true to his word.
Chastain started the night on the outside pole, leading the majority of the first stage and taking the stage win. It was much of the same in the second stage, with Chastain and eventual race winner Brett Moffitt battling fiercely before Moffitt nipped Chastain at the finish to take the second stage win.
Then came the trip to pit road for what should have been routine service that turned the remainder of the race upside down for Chastain and his team.
NASCAR penalized the team for what was deemed a “safety violation” on the pit stop, sending Chastain to the tail end of the field for the ensuing restart and forcing him to turn up the aggressiveness to 11 if he was going to salvage a decent finish out of the night.
“Once we got that penalty, man, I had to get back up there,” Chastain said. “I’m fighting for my career, fighting for everything, fighting for my guys. When you’ve got the fastest race truck, you can’t just ride in line. That’s what filled this place up 40 years ago and we’ve got to fill it back up.
“Small mistake. I don’t know exactly what happened. If we keep bringing fast trucks like this, it’s a dream come true to be driving these things Just to be in this position, just to race here at Bristol, but yeah, I wish we could have raced with Brett.”
From then on out, it was no-holds barred from Chastain as he used every trick in the book to try and weave his way back through traffic with one goal in mind: get back to the front. Several times, Chastain saved his truck from breaking loose and nearly spinning out and even pulled off a daring three-wide pass at one point as he was on his way forward.
Though he didn’t make many friends along the way, the aggressive driving paid off as he was able to eventually crack the top-five before coming home in third place when the checkered flag flew. Turning what could have been a bad night into a start to the Playoffs to build off of.
If Thursday night’s race is any indication, don’t look for Chastain to take his foot off the gas anytime soon as the Playoffs continue next weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
“That’s what got me here,” Chastain said. “That’s why CarShield came back on board. That’s why Al Niece wanted me in in this truck. That’s why these boys and girls work on these trucks so hard. Everybody from the race shop is here right now. The whole shop. There’s nobody back in Statesville. We’re all here and we brought our friends with us.
“As long as my race team believes in me, whoever I drive for, that’s all I worry about…This time last year, I told them (Niece Motorsports), you’re going to have to back me up. If we race up front, anywhere really, I’m going to race hard and they sat right there in the office and said ‘Man, I’m with you. We’ll go to war with you if you come race with us.’
“Obviously, I can step over the line from time to time. I’ve got to get a little bit better balance for it. I’m not going to ride in line. At the end of the race, when I get position on you, I’m going. I’m going to win the race. Especially when you have a truck as fast as we have.”