By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It wasn’t a winner’s circle repeat for Ross Chastain, who’s had a “Cloud Nine” week after scoring his maiden Xfinity Series win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Saturday. After clawing his way towards a second place finish in Friday’s Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, it was another mesmerizing showing, and he hopes it was enough to impress car owner Chip Ganassi.
“It means the world. When they told me about it, I just wanted to come in and do my job, and I hope I did enough,” said Chastain. “I won’t know for awhile, but thank you Jeff and Paulette (Carpoff), it means the world to me for what they did for me. Chip for allowing it all to happen, and then these guys working around me, getting me up to speed.
“I thought if we went green to the end in that long run, we really were going to have something for them because we were riding around waiting and we put tires on there. I just hope I did enough. That’s the scariest thing is not knowing where this leads, but I know I’ve got great people behind me in Florida. The whole watermelon industry, and now with CGR, (JD Motorsports co-owners) Johnny Davis, Gary Keller, and Jay Robinson with Premium (Motorsports), I’ve got a really good group of people around me. I’ll let them keep guiding me through this NASCAR world.”
Making his third and last race for Chip Ganassi Racing, Chastain has already proven what he’s made of in top-tier equipment after winning the pole and leading the most laps at both Darlington and Las Vegas. However, he had his work cut out for him in his 133rd race after relinquishing his third starting position due to unapproved adjustments.
The former watermelon farmer has shown his ambitious speed, but the challenge was can he come from the rear in a competitive car?
That question was answered in Stage 1 as the playoff contender cracked the top-15 before the 50th lap, and scored a stage point when his No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet Camaro crossed the line in 10th.
From there, he was quietly lurking in the competitive battle between pole sitter Christopher Bell, a returning Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Stage 1 winner Daniel Hemric, but wasn’t able to pose a serious threat, finishing fourth in Stage 2, won by Dale Jr.
As the race came to a close, and the buzz surrounding Dale’s return, Chastain still kept his car in the top-five, but when several late cautions took place, it was game time and on the penultimate restart, he was fifth.
A lap into the restart, Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer were involved in a championship implicating Turn 3 crash, taking Allgaier out of the race. Meanwhile, Chastain gained two spots, putting him in excellent position to make some noise, but on the final restart, he had a different battle of his own, and that’s battling Dale Jr.
With 11 laps to go, Chastain successfully won the battle against the two-time series champion, and regained third as his eyes were now on race leader Bell and Matt Tifft.
Chastain made quick business with Tifft and the 250-lap contest came down to those guys as a spot into the Round of 8 was on the line. However, a bid for a second career win for Chastain came up just 0.566 seconds short as he couldn’t catch the pole sitter, who went on to score his fifth win of the season.
It’s Chastain’s second straight top-five and third of the season, capping off a storybook stint with Ganassi, and even received a pat on the back from Dale Jr. for an incredible rally.
His runner-up effort moved Chastain from sixth to fourth in the standings, 37 markers behind Bell, and 18 ahead of ninth-place Custer after the opening race of the Round of 12 wrapped up. Going forward, Chastain will look to race his way deep into the playoffs with his primary ride, the No. 4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
Chastain said his main goal was just making the playoffs, but now sets his eyes on advancing into the next round despite the challenges that lies ahead, beginning at the Charlotte Roval on Sept. 29 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“To start scratch on the field and still finish second, and scored points in all those segments there,” said Chastain. “The Roval we don’t know what’s going to go on, but Dover, we run good.
“Got lot of good buzz around the No. 4 car going back there now, and we finished seventh at Road America. If doesn’t rain and we can somehow make it around that place because I don’t even know what it looks like, this is a chance to way over extend with were we expected. Making the playoffs was our goal, but shoot man, now that we’re here, we’re going to try to get into that next round.”