Ross Chastain bet on himself. Bubba Wallace bided his time. Now, both come to Speedweeks with their best shots of success in NASCAR’s premiere series. Unfortunately, these could also be their first and last shots at success with top equipment too.
What I mean by that is, neither of the two may get another chance with a top Cup team if they don’t perform during their current contracts with their respective teams now. Chastain, is 28. If you can’t be competitive in a Chip Ganassi Racing car, what car will you be strong in? Unfortunately, by him pushing 30, that next opportunity may not come with a team like Gibbs, Penske, Hendrick or Stewart-Haas.
The trend is to get younger when a ride opens up, not go with a driver that is in their late 20’s or early 30’s.
Same for Wallace. He’s 27. I doubt this is just a one-off year for him with 23XI Racing. He knows that there’s likely not Plan B if he fails in the No. 23 Toyota too. Michael Jordan only came into this deal wanting to be competitive. He and Denny Hamlin have surrounding Wallace with a great team with great cars as they’re aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. If he can’t win in a few years with this car, the question for him is the same as Chastain, when will he?
“I don’t want to go fail,” Chastain said during his Daytona 500 media availability. “So there is no alternative. There is no Plan B. We have the farm and grow and sell watermelons. But, as a racer, I want to succeed. I want to do my job. This is it.”
Wallace feels the same.
“It’s just delivering results,” Wallace said. “This for me, is the one and potentially last opportunity for me. We have a solid foundation underneath us to make this program better and to grow this team and make this a household name in the sport. Make it a pinnacle name of our sport.”
Chastain is used to this kind of pressure though. He bet on himself a few years ago when he took a full seasons worth of money for a guaranteed ride in a mid level NXS team to take it to Ganassi for a three race deal for their cars in the same series.
See, the Florida watermelon farmer has been around since 2011 and in 2017, his path stalled out. So for 2018, he could have been a mid level driver again or this time, take a risk at becoming great. The only way to be great is to be with a great team and Ganassi had a great program in that series. The problem was, if he failed, then he spent all that money to be put on a showcase and not be able to recoup it or get another shot after. Why would another top team sign him if he couldn’t win with Ganassi?
Chastain, didn’t have to worry about it.
He started from the pole and led the most laps in his first race with the team at Darlington that September. He won his second start with them in Vegas. He was runner-up a week later in Richmond. That earned him a full time shot in that same car for 2019. He finally made it. Unfortunately, DC Solar, which was supposed to be his sponsor, had huge problems and they were gone. So was his seat with Ganassi as they had to close up shop on the NXS team as a result.
Luckily, they kept him around under contract but just loaned him to Kaulig Racing in NXS and Niece Motorsports in Trucks for the last couple of years. Chastain has thrived in those seats though. Ganassi, with an open seat, wanted him back under their umbrella as he replaces Kyle Larson/Matt Kenseth in the No. 42 Chevrolet for 2021.
This is a good ride. It’s maybe not a championship caliber one yet, but one that is more than capable of making the playoffs which would be a very good season for Chastain if he could. If he can’t, then Ganassi may start looking for his replacement.
Wallace is in the same boat. He’s not had the successful background as Chastain with him racing for an underfunded Richard Petty Motorsports team. But, he’s shown promise and out performed his equipment. What happens when that equipment starts overshadowing your success?
Wallace doesn’t want that. He wants to match the equipment level with his new team and has set lofty goals as a result.
“There’s a lot riding on us you know,” Wallace said. “I’ve had personal goals of two wins. I think you just have to go out and be competitive and I’ve felt more competitive and more passion, more drive than I ever have with everything that’s right out in front of me with this opportunity.”
While saying that, Wallace knows that success may not come that early and that they have to stay the course and just take it week by week. Improvement each race is all that they’re after and allow the success to come from there.
“Do I expect to jump in and win right off the bat? No, not at all,” Wallace continued. “I know the sport. If it was that easy, a lot of people would be doing it. But, it’s not that easy and I know the competition that we go up against. It’s tougher than it’s ever been.
“I’m excited to get under way and just see where we stack up. We start to build a resume at Daytona and build off that and continue to get better for our team. It’s going to take a couple of races, just like any new team will to get everything underneath us.”
Does the lofty expectation give him more pressure though, especially with this being a make or break for his future in this sport?
“There’s been pressure ever since I got into the league to win,” said Wallace. “So just another year. New car, no different.”