Chastain still feels like he has the pace to win, mindful of those around him Saturday night in Bristol hoping for paybacks

BRISTOL, Tenn — A quick glance at Ross Chastain’s results over the summer months might lead you to believe that the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet has fallen off in the performance department.

That would be a mistaken assumption, says Chastain, whose record over the last two months has been spotty at best.

“I feel like the pace has not left us,” Chastain said before Friday’s NASCAR Cup Series practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. “There’s been a lot of mistakes on my part, and then just stuff that’s going to happen in racing, just all kind of piled on for two months in a row there. 

“But the pace never left. I never questioned that. It was just a matter of me not messing up; not speeding on pit road, debris in the drive pin holes at Darlington, or just crashing. It’s just eliminating that.”

In a breakout year for himself and for Trackhouse, Chastain won two of the first 10 events of the season and ruffled some feathers along the way. In the seven races after he ran eighth on July 17 at New Hampshire, Chastain posted an average finish of 25.0 and fell from second to eighth in the standings.

After running seventh last Sunday at Kansas, Chastain is 26 points to the good entering Saturday night’s Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol.

With that margin, Chastain has mixed feelings about taking a conservative approach to the race.

“You never want to crash in practice, especially this year with this car,” Chastain said. “You don’t want to crash. I think that the simple answer is ‘Yes,’ (to a conservative mind-set), but I still want to go fast. 

“I know I say I don’t want to be the fastest in practice, but I do. I want to be the fastest. I want to qualify on the pole, and I want to lead 500 laps. (But) there are going to be certain situations where it’s going to be in my best interest to not insert myself.”

He knows there’s drivers out there that think they owe Chastain one. Bristol has typically been a place to where upset drivers cash in on their payback promises. Does Chastain have to look more in his mirror on Saturday night?

“I’m aware of everything going on around the No. 1 car at all times,” he says. Chastain starts 12th in Saturday’s race.

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