By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
When the NASCAR Cup Series have its final 10 races, the main focus shifts directly to the playoffs. For non-playoff driver Ross Chastain, his goal is delivering strong results in his final 10 races with Chip Ganassi Racing before moving to Trackhouse Racing in 2022.
Chastain was best of the rest and felt to have had the strongest car during Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
As the laps were winding down, Chastain was able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Darlington master Denny Hamlin and season dominator Kyle Larson.
However, the final restart bit Chastain dearly. He chose the bottom line where leader Hamlin was a row ahead, but it didn’t work. Larson got by Chastain and ultimately gave it his all to hunt down Hamlin.
Rather than celebrating his maiden win at the track that blossomed his NASCAR career, Chastain finished third. Despite some disappointment with his final run, it was all humility for “The Melon Man.”
“I can go fast, but I can’t quite race with them. It starts with my restarts,” said Chastain. “I got some work to do there, so I gave up the outside to take the bottom to be safe. Then Kyle rolls around me. Just need to clean up a few things. I think it was the fastest car tonight. It’s humbling to come with the CGR group these final 10 races.”
The 367-lap performance marked Chastain’s third top-five of the season and his first since finishing runner-up to Larson at Nashville over two months ago. With such superb run on a night that plagued most of the playoff field, reflection was his outlook.
Three Septembers ago, he got the opportunity to drive for Ganassi in the Xfinity Series where he had the race in the bag. That was until an incident with Kevin Harvick ruined his afternoon and finished 25th. Two races later, Chastain would win with Ganassi at Las Vegas which remains the driver/team combo’s lone triumph to date.
Due in large part of the DC Solar scandal, Chastain’s tenure with Ganassi was over after that season. This year marked his return with that very team that gave him a shot at Darlington, but in the sport’s highest level.
While his second tenure will end at Phoenix in nine weeks time, Chastain knows polishing his race craft is crucial going forward.
“I feel like I put in the work, but always feel behind. So I never feel fully prepare,” said Chastain.
When it comes to his success at Darlington, such comment prevents him to fully flesh out how he’s been able to adapt well. But there’s one minor exception, 417 Speedway in South Florida.
“We don’t run up against the fence there, but it’s as sideways as we are here at Darlington. I didn’t run up against the fence at all tonight,” Chastain explained. “A lot of Florida Saturday night short tracks and older, wiser guys down there that taught me a lot.
“To come back here now three years later for the people that supported me then and put me in that car. We’re still here and still fighting, so that means the world.”