RACING

Ross Chastain seeks balance in the highs and lows of breakout season

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Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season is still heading toward its midpoint, and Ross Chastain has already occupied opposite ends of the spectrum of the season’s most emotional moments.

There were the springtime highs of his first two major league wins, each punctuated by boisterous celebrations involving bear hugs and smashed fruit. Then the bottoms. That decisive victory at the Circuit of the Americas came at the expense of a dented and distraught AJ Allmendinger after a collision on the last lap. He also drew the ire of championship contenders Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin at the Gateway grand opening, then struck an apologetic tone afterwards – almost too much of an apology amid the glare of TV cameras , he says now.

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Through it all, the 29-year-old Floridian climbed to No. 1 in the Cup Series standings by competing in Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 presented by Jockey Made in America (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN , SiriusXM) at America’s Road. Chastain says he wants to stay true to the approach that got him here, but is also keenly aware of the incidents that have marked his campaign to date. Well, he’s trying to fix it.

“They’re in my head all the time and trying to balance that is a challenge,” Chastain said Thursday, noting his recent track record has sometimes factored into and influenced his on-track decisions. “Unfortunately there have been a few instances over the last month where the thought has come too late or I haven’t done a good enough job of getting there. So yeah, I’m looking back at some of the moves I’m doing and everything that and I’m like, damn it, I can be better at these, so it’s a work in progress.

Chastain’s aggressive riding style is not a new phenomenon. It’s just that this season his uncompromising approach has been more visible – consistently leading the pack in the Cup Series, instead of being further back in the field in the first series or in the domestic series preliminaries.

June 30, 2022 Main image by Chastain Suarez
Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

This high echelon was boosted by the meteoric rise of his Trackhouse Racing team, the sophomore organization owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull. The performance boost has made both Chastain and teammate Daniel Suárez Cup Series winners this season, and the two-car operation is 2-for-2 on road courses so far in 2022. “This n It’s not just a moment, but it’s a Trackhouse arrival,” Chastain said, a nod to the continued realization of Marks’ radical vision.

This rising arc against more established sides was one of the most defining stories of the season. But the seething feuds and “Ross Chastain vs. Everyone” headlines siphoned off some of the feel-good thunder. In some ways, Chastain scratched and scrapped to reach Cup Series level. Now that he’s here, he struggles to find common ground.

“Like I could just clean that stuff up, you know, just run with a bit of a cool head in the car where I still can… I still want to pass these guys, I still want to pass the cars in front of me, but let’s do them. things a little better,” Chastain says. “You know, I’m all for… being you know, the show sometimes, and I’m fine, I’m okay with that. “Probably don’t need to do it every week. For my taste, there’s been a little too much attention on me. You know, that’s…most of my fault.”

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With that added attention came extra cheers from the stands during driver introductions, a trend he says began to turn around in 2019. That season Chastain added his second Xfinity Series win, but his mid-term move to collecting Camping World Truck Series points in a mission for this tour’s championship resonated. He made it to the last four and finished second in his quest for the “Melon Man Challenge” title.

It was the time when a 10th place in that year’s Daytona 500 was something to strut about. Top 10s come in fairly frequently for Chastain now, as do accolades from a growing rooting section.

“I remember when the first time it was a little loud in a truck race and now it’s, it’s wild,” Chastain says. “It’s tough in the moment, like you go out and it’s just a grandstand or an indoor lawn, the ball diamond, they’re full of people. The Daytona 500 is obviously the biggest buzz that I felt. And it’s wild, and I don’t really know how to explain it. … It’s so hard to describe.

“And I’ve had these moments where they boo and it catches you off guard. It’s like ‘what, oh. Someone really doesn’t like me. I have to be honest, though, there’s been a lot more cheers lately, which is to say, I didn’t know which direction this stuff would go, so there’s been a lot more cheers lately.

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