By David Morgan, Associate Editor
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ross Chastain has always been an aggressive driver, but since making the decision to switch from competing for the championship in the NASCAR Xfinity Series to the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in mid-summer, the Alva, Florida native has been showing he is a force to be reckoned with behind the wheel.
As the Truck Series Playoffs start with Thursday night’s running of the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Chastain carries in a series leading three wins among drivers competing for the championship and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“Is it possible for me to be more aggressive?” Chastain said. “I don’t think there’s much more room on the ol’ twist knob there, but we’ll just go in with the same mentality we’ve had all year: ‘Press the Attack.’ That’s our Marine veteran team owner Al Niece’s motto and that ‘s what he’s instilled into us and ‘press the attack’ is what we’re going to do.
“You can’t slow down or you’re going to get run over.”
Despite setting the world on fire in the Truck Series, as well as scoring his first win in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing at Daytona, things haven’t been the easiest for Chastain over the last year. As last season came to a close, he looked to be heading into 2019 with a full-time ride at Chip Ganassi Racing before sponsorship problems forced the closure of the team and left Chastain in limbo over the offseason.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Chastain has been jumping between all three national NASCAR series, driving for Premium Motorsports in the Cup Series, splitting his time between Kaulig Racing and JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, and running full-time for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series.
Aside from the Daytona win with Kaulig, the most success Chastain has found this season has come driving for Niece Motorsports, so when the season reached the summer stretch, Chastain had a choice to make, either continue to chase the Xfinity title or start from scratch and go for it in the Truck Series.
Chastain chose the Truck Series and the rest is history.
“I hope I never have to go through that stuff again,” Chastain said of the rollercoaster ride he’s been on since the end of last season. “It was a lot of bad timing on a lot of things that got the ball rolling. Stuff wasn’t good. It was nobody’s fault; it was just happening.
“We felt like we just kept getting punched in the nose. Had this opportunity and Al was on me all year. We had made every race, went through the legality of it with NASCAR and knew we were in our reach to do it. It finally just came the time where I said ‘Look, I’m doing this. I can’t keep going down the other path.’ Nobody’s fault, just had to do it and I feel like it was the right choice.
“I thought we’d be here finishing up our regular season in the Xfinity Series with Chip Ganassi. That’s what we thought. You know, it all happens for a reason. God does it for whatever his reason is and I’m good with it.
“A lot of things have been thrown at us in the last calendar year from this being my first race with Niece ever last year to what we’ve built it to. Al Niece has given us the tools to go execute and do. It’s a dream come true.”
Even as the on-track accolades continue to mount, Chastain noted that off-track, things are still the same for the 26-year old watermelon farmer and he has his dog to thank for keeping him grounded as he chases his first NASCAR championship over the next three months.
“Away from the track, nothing (has changed),” Chastain said. “The biggest thing is that my dog still looks at me the same. No matter what.
“The funniest thing is, he’s very animated when I see him. After the Daytona Xfinity race, it was super late. Rain-delayed, we win, victory lane forever, press conferences…we go back to the hauler celebrating. I finally get back to the camper and I go in and he’s just laying there. He looks up at me and he puts his head right back down. I was like ‘Dude, we won!’ I’m yelling at him. I’m picking him up. He’s a big dog. I’m jumping up and down with him. He grunts, I set him down and he just sat there.
No matter what – win, lose, or draw – he’s the same. I like that I can bring him, because it kind of keeps me realizing, I’m still the same guy.”