Chastain still taking it all in from a dream 2022 season

Even in the immediate moments after Ross Chastain finished out the 2022 championship finale – finishing runner-up to new NASCAR Cup Series champ Joey Logano in the race – the 29-year-old Floridian insisted he was absolutely thrilled with the season.

 The driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet earned his first two career NASCAR Cup Series victories (at Circuit of The Americas and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway) and was a legitimate championship threat the entire season from Daytona to Phoenix. And, when he had to do something drastic to earn one of only four championship berths in the Phoenix title race, Chastain performed a move on the last half of the last lap at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway to take that position. Still needing to make up positions on the final lap, he turned his Chevy into the outside wall and floored it – riding the wall and passing five cars to earn the final Playoff transfer position by a single-point over veteran Denny Hamlin and setting a track record in his wake. Although Logano dominated the season finale en route to his second series title, Chastain secured career-highs in wins (2), top-fives (15) and top-10s (21). He led 692 laps in 2022 after leading only 76 laps in his previous five years racing in the series. It all made for quite the “Cinderella story” for a young driver in his first year with a competitive team in NASCAR’s premier series – a racer from tiny Alva, Florida where his family operates a watermelon farm starring on the world stage. Yet, Chastain said with a smile Thursday, his return home to his Florida farm property in the weeks immediately after the season was a lot less glamorous than many would have expected. He acknowledged, however, his work in 2022 raised the interest level of those he grew up with and has absolutely gained a lot of fans thanks to his performance all season and certainly with his “Martinsville Miracle.” Chastain was with his younger brother Chad Chastain at a race recently – helping work on the car and then spotting for Chad during the race. He said he appreciated the number of people approaching him for attaboys and handshakes even if he had to remind them, he was working the race. He still hasn’t had a chance to read or even answer all the texts he’s received post-Martinsville. Back at home in rural Southwestern Florida, however, Chastain is afforded the chance to relax and take it all in. “It’s just home so people that I know were just like, great season, let’s go to lunch,” Chastain recalled with a smile. “Nothing too crazy. They want to talk about Martinsville and talk a little about the win at COTA and Talladega, but pretty normal. It’s the most normal of any place I go.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 06: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express/Advent Health Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 06, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Chastain started in this sport just trying to make ends meet and delay in the inevitable of working for his family’s watermelon business on a full-time basis.

It was an unlikely path to stardom and to this opportunity with Trackhouse that included taking a bet on himself with Ganassi, which led to a full-time Xfinity Series ride in 2019, only for it to get squandered away by the sponsor getting federally indited for a ponzi scheme and Chastain being left with nothing again. Only to win again in a new role with Kaulig and eventually getting called up to a Cup seat with that same Ganassi team only for Ganassi to sell his organization in the middle of the first year he was with them.

It led him to Trackhouse, the team that bought Ganassi and ended with a Final Four appearance.

“It was important to just — I have a good group around me, and it was like, What do we do? I had to fight off the fear,” Chastain said. “They asked at the wheel force test, Are you ready to get back in? I said, No, I need ten minutes. Ten turned into 30. They’re, like, We’ve got to get going. I said, You don’t want me driving your car right now.

“Once I sent the text — this sounds funny. I’ve done all I can do. He knows. He will see it when he sees it, but I still have a job to do here, so we finished out the day.”

As far as that message?

“I want this.”

In their first season together and the first as a two-car operation at Trackhouse, they were winners just six races in and now Trackhouse and Chastain are in the Championship 4.

“There is no right or wrong way to do this,” Chastain said. “You see guys every year take a different path. If you don’t have the resources to go rent or get in or you’re not hired to drive something really good and in the lower series, it’s just the economics of this sport. You kind of have to bring something.

“Wherever you can plug in, I mean, I’m a proponent of starting out. You race. You just race everything you can. As long as you’re at the track, you have a chance to — you just never know, right? I’ve carried around an extra set of driving stuff in case somebody got sick, and I’ve blown up in races and started races and then gotten in somebody else’s truck to finish the race for them.

“You just have to keep going. If you are bought in — you have to buy in. You have to live in Mooresville or the area. You just have to be there.

“Something comes up and you meet a crew chief and run into him at lunch, and he is, like, Hey, we don’t have a driver or his money fell through. I don’t have anything, but I’ll drive it. 

“I think that it’s surreal that I get to drive race cars for a living, so if you are able to do that in this sport, if you can pay your bills, and you have to give up a lot. You have to give up a personal life.

“Some guys balance both. I’ve never been able to balance both. I’m 29 and single and just chasing race cars. I know it sounds silly to say, but that’s a conscious effort to do that.”

That’s why he’ll be back with another shot to win a title in 2023. This is the stability he’s longed searched for. He’s here. However, he doesn’t feel like he’s fully here yet. He had a great season, but Chastain notes that he has to improve during the offseason so he can make it back to this moment again next November.

“I’m confident in my ability, and I’m confident in my team,” he said. “But I don’t believe that if I just stop now and show back up to the Clash and just all that in the middle is nothing, nothing productive, that I will be good enough to race at the top level of this sport.

“I need to continue to evolve and be a better race car driver and study these guys and study myself, see what they’re doing, understand these cars better and understand the craft that it takes to drive at this level and to extrapolate the most out of these cars.

“I feel like I’m on a never-ending hamster wheel to be the best version of myself, and that’s not going to stop. I hope that I never lose that drive because I wake up and I think about how can I drive a race car fast.

“That is my main priority every day of my life now, and it has been for the past probably seven or eight years. It wasn’t at the beginning of my career. Before that it was how can I raise the funds to race, and before that was what do we need to do at the farm to grow a crop.

“You look at the progression of my mindset that comes natural when I wake up, and I feel like that I’m on a never-ending evolution to be better, and I can’t wait to get to work this off-season.

“Even though I have learned to marry that together with maybe some time away, some time not focused on this so that I am charged and ready — this is a long season, but I feel like we hit our stride early obviously with the speed, but it just didn’t falter. We did not — most of the missteps were on my part, not our team, and I want to clean that up.

“I’m telling you guys, I’m not — there’s so many things that I can do better. There’s so many things that I can clean up that would make lap time, first of all. It would clean up running position throughout the race and ultimately finishing position week in and week out.

“I’ll really rely on them, Josh and Scott and Dan, to guide me, make me the best version of myself that they can make me. I want to be coachable. I want to be the best, and I believe that the path there isn’t always what I want.

“I’m not always going to like what they want me to do. I’m not always going to enjoy the moments. But it’s going to be for the better, and I believe I have the best group to do that.”

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