Ross Chastain is looking more and more like a legitimate Championship 4 contender as the season goes on. For a while, we wondered if his early season success could be sustainable. He had 4 top 3 finishes, all consecutively, in the first 6 races of the year. Was it a byproduct of the Next Gen closing the gap to the newer and smaller teams to the top and if so, how much longer would it take for the big teams to impose their wills again? Or, was it a lucky early season start but reality would eventually strike?
Instead, Chastain and Trackhouse Racing appear to be here for the long-haul. Chastain brought his No. 1 Chevrolet home runner-up in Sunday’s Quaker State 400. It was his 2nd runner-up result in as many races at the Atlanta Motor Speedway this season. His teammate Daniel Suarez brought his No. 99 Chevrolet home in 6th place for his 3rd top 6 finish in the last 4 weeks.
“Not the last couple,” Chastain said if he would have done anything differently on the late race restarts. “Earlier we had an option to take the front row behind Corey (LaJoie). “We were second, and I chose behind him because we were worried about fuel. I knew better. I should have just taken the front row and dealt with the fuel in 60 laps, and we were trying to make sure we could be on offense at the end of the day for our Jockey Chevrolet.
“That would be the one, but on a day like today I feel like we won way more restarts, I feel like my lane moved when I was in it, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of this car and this team to give me that ability to do that.”
This last month, Trackhouse has finished 1-7, 5-15, 4-5, 2-6. That’s at the midway mark of the year at a time most teams are starting to figure this car out which means we need to really start taking this organization seriously.
However, the length of time that Chastain lasts in the playoffs is almost down to simply, how long he wants it to be. Chastain is one of the hottest drivers in the sport right now. No one has as many top 5’s over the last 12 races than Chastain. He has 5 straight top 8 results on the season including 3 consecutive top 5’s at that. The problem is, he’s ruffling a lot of feathers in the garage and he now has to start worrying about payback.
Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott were both mad at him for separate run-ins in Gateway. Hamlin vowed payback. On Sunday alone, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon and Hamlin again all had choice words for him.
“When you’ve got guys like (Ross Chastain) wrecking half of the field, you might as well take a different strategy,” Dillon said after being collected in a crash that was sparked between contact with Martin Truex Jr. and Chastain.
Later, Almirola said “Ross is an (expletive) idiot and he knows it. He better hope I don’t see him at a Food Lion.”
After a 2nd run-in during this race alone between Chastain and Hamlin, this one taking Hamlin for a spin, Hamlin said after the race that, “Everyone has different tolerance levels and as you all know, I’ve reached my peak.”
At what point do these drivers cash in on Chastain’s aggression and take him out? That’s why Chastain has to have his eyes on making amends because in a season that’s seen so much parity and not much of a difference in the playoff standings, he can’t afford a bad race or 2 in the playoffs.
“Yeah, I hated that I took the best car here and I tore it up a couple times, but yeah, it’s incredible,” Chastain said of his day Sunday in Atlanta. “Hats off to Chevrolet and Trackhouse for bringing this fast of a Jockey Chevrolet to be able to come back. Our road crew and pit crew did an awesome job to rebound through all the damage repair, and we had a shot, and I got inside of the 9 coming off of 2, coming to the checkered, and caution came out.”
The thing is, this is what makes Ross Chastain who he is. He’s an aggressive driver. He steps over the line at times and isn’t afraid of the consequences. He’s had to drive this way up through the ranks. It’s what got him to Trackhouse and what has made him a championship contender now.
So why change?
The team doesn’t want him to but how long does the garage keep calm and not take matters into their own hands?