Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season is still teetering toward its midpoint, and Ross Chastain has already occupied opposite ends of the spectrum for the most emotional moments of the season.
There were the springtime peaks of his first two major league wins, each marked with raucous celebrations that included bear hugs and fruit smashes. Then I lower them. That big Circuit of the Americas win came at the expense of a dented and distraught AJ Allmendinger after a last-lap collision. He also drew the ire of championship contenders Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin at the Gateway opening, then struck an apologetic tone, almost too much amid the glare of television cameras, he says now.
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Through it all, the 29-year-old Floridian has made it to the top tier of the Cup Series standings as he enters Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 presented by Jockey Made in America (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App , MRN, SiriusXM) on Carretera América. Chastain says he wants to stay true to the approach that brought him here, but that he’s also well aware of the incidents that have marked his campaign to date. That, he is trying to repair.
“They’re in my head all the time and trying to balance that is a challenge,” Chastain said Thursday, noting that his recent track record has sometimes factored into his on-track decisions. “Unfortunately, there have been a few instances in the last month where the idea came too late or I didn’t do a good enough job of bringing it to fruition. So yeah, I look back at some of the moves that I do and stuff and I’m like damn, I can be better in those cases. So it’s a work in progress.”
Chastain’s aggressive driving style is not a new phenomenon. It’s just that this season, his hard-nosed approach has been on display more prominently: regularly leading the pack in the Cup Series, rather than being further back in the main series pack or during the Nationwide series preliminaries. .
That lofty rung has been fueled by the meteoric rise of his Trackhouse Racing team, the sophomore organization owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull. The performance increase has made Chastain and teammate Daniel Suarez Cup Series winners this season, and the two-car operation is 2-for-2 on road courses so far in 2022. “This is not just a moment, it’s a Trackhouse arrival,” Chastain said, a nod to the continued fulfillment of Marks’ sweeping vision.
That upward arc against more established teams has been one of the most impactful stories of the season. But bubbling feuds and “Ross Chastain vs. Everyone” headlines have deflected a smidge of the feel-good thunder. By some measures, Chastain has battled and scrapped his way to the Cup Series level. Now that he’s here, he’s looking for a middle ground.
“Like I could clean up that kind of stuff, you know, just run with a little cooler head in the car where I still can… I still want to get past these guys, I still want to get past the cars in front of me, but let’s do it a little better. Chastain says. “You know, I’m all for… being, you know, the show sometimes, and I’m fine, I’m fine with that. I’ve accepted it, but I probably don’t need to do it every week. For my taste, I have been given too much attention. You know, it’s… most of it is my doing.
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With that extra attention has come an additional clamor from the grandstands during driver introductions, a trend he says began to change in 2019. That season, Chastain notched his second Xfinity Series win, but his turnaround midway through on your way to collect the Camping World Truck Series. the points rang out in a championship mission from that tour. He made it to the last four and finished second in his quest for the “Melon Man Challenge” title.
Those were the days when a 10th place in the Daytona 500 that year it was something to brag about. Top 10s are now fairly frequent for Chastain, as are accolades from a growing support section.
“I remember when the first time it got a little rowdy at a truck race and now it’s wild,” says Chastain. “It’s tough in the moment, like if you go out and it’s just a big grandstand or a grass area of the infield, the baseball field, they’re full of people. The Daytona 500 is obviously the biggest buzz I’ve ever felt. And it’s wild, and I don’t know how to really explain it. … It’s so hard to describe.
“And I’ve had those moments where you get booed and caught off guard. It’s like ‘what, oh. Someone really doesn’t like me. I’ve got to be honest though, there’s been a lot more clapping lately, I mean, I didn’t know which way this sort of thing would go. So there are a lot more applause lately.”