Prior to the 2018 season kicking off at Daytona, JD Motorsports owner Johnny Davis put on a full court press to attempt to help his company. Through the first three months of the season, lead driver Ross Chastain is on pace for a career year.
During the first 10 races of the season, Chastain has recorded three top-10 finishes, more than he had in the previous two seasons combined with JD Motorsports. With a pair of ninth-place efforts at Daytona International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, the No. 4 team is currently sitting 13th in the championship standings. Though Spencer Gallagher won at Talladega Superspeedway, he was suspended by NASCAR and is ineligible to make the playoffs, moving Chastain to the bubble position.
“We are where we’re supposed to be,” Chastain told Frontstretch of the 2018 season. “I wish we could run as good as we did at California [Auto Club Speedway] because that was the best race we’ve had. At Bristol, we finished well, but I don’t think we were handling as well. If we could have a couple more California style races, where we are legitimately a top 10 car all day on a big track like that, we will be set.”
Unfortunately for Chastain, California is a beast of its own. Over the course of a run, tires typically fall off over three seconds, though there are other tracks on the schedule where tire falloff is also key. The No. 4 team did earn two stage points at the two-mile track, en route to a 10th-place result.
Currently, Chastain is keeping up with some of the big teams in the sport. He sits just behind Austin Cindric, who is running a full-time schedule between Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske. And through the first three months of the campaign, the No. 4 car is 12 points ahead of Michael Annett, who drives for JR Motorsports, one of the juggernauts of the XFINITY Series.
Chastain said, “The bad part we’re racing against guys point-wise that we shouldn’t even be close to speed wise on the track. Cindric should be winning races and he will be very soon—I think he will win a couple races this year. I’m not racing him points wise so then you default to the [No.] 5 car, who is right there with us, and their cars are winning races, so I don’t know how we should expect to run with them, either.”
Despite having a limited budget compared to most of the cars he’s keeping up with, Chastain believes it will all pan out the way it should.
“I don’t care who it is, I just want to run as good as I can,” he mentions. “The way this sport is structured, points is what pays, so that’s what you look at. But it all work out however it’s supposed to. Come Homestead after 33 races, everyone is going to be exactly where they are supposed to be.”
Back in January, Davis told Frontstretch that 2018 was the best chance for one of his teams to make the playoffs, specifically Chastain. However, the driver believes that there is still work to be done in order to take that next step as an organization.
“We just need one more bag full of money,” Chastain joked, admitting that’s what Davis always says. “That’s really all we need because then we could have went to the Charlotte test that they just had and we could go spend money on our racecar and race team and buy parts on pieces that we are trying to make ourselves.
“We’re just fighting an uphill battle because of Monday through Thursday in the business side of the sport, we’re trying to keep up. Our budget is still huge. It’s still a very expensive race team. I underachieve first of all, and with the race team, there is more.”
When asked why Chastain believes he underachieves as a driver, he referred that he’s “never ran a perfect lap, and there’s always something to do different.” But through 10 races, he is seven positions higher in points than from this time last season.
With an average starting position of 18.2 and average finishing spot of 17.7, both career-highs in full-time XFINITY seasons, Chastain still believes the team needs to find a tad more speed and consistency in order to hop comfortably into the playoffs.
“For the last few years, I’ve said to the team and to myself, realistically 13th is where we should be,” Chastain elaborated. “That’s where we ended up last year, and honestly, we should be farther back this year. I still think through us racing 33 races that 13th will be where we end up.
“We improved, but so did everyone else and that’s the tough part. I still standby 13th is where we should be and where we will probably end up. We’re going to try, but I can’t make anything happen because everyone else is trying, too.”
Chastain has also seen an increase in starts on the Cup side, as he’s raced in 11 of the 12 events for Premium Motorsports with a best effort of 18th at Texas Motor Speedway.
Moving forward, Chastain thinks that the partnership will continue between he and Jay Robinson, owner of Premium Motorsports.
“Going into Atlanta, it was let’s go there and see how it goes, but after he said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be racing a lot this year,” Chastain said. “There is so much more beyond the scenes stuff at Premium that nobody really ever knows about. There are so many people working behind the scenes that help push Jay and myself out into the spotlight that make it possible.”
Chastain also believes he will be the driver for most of the season in the No. 15 car.
“I think most of them,” he said. “It’s still a handshake deal, just like I have with Johnny. We’re still working through some of those non-companion weekends to see what really makes sense for this year, that race and big picture wise. If it makes sense for someone else to be in the car because I can’t make it for most of the weekend until Sunday then that’s, that.
“I just go off whatever Jay tells me. It’s worked out so far. I have nothing to leverage with him, so whatever he feels is the right thing for his program and me — Johnny pushed me the whole off-season to get as many races with Jay as I could. It’s crazy how it’s worked out, but it’s all happening for a reason.”
- The XFINITY Series has its second consecutive off-weekend this week before heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway next Saturday, May 26. Ryan Blaney is the defending race winner.
- On Tuesday, Kaz Grala announced he and JGL Racing had parted ways. In 10 races this season, the rookie driver had a best effort of fourth at the season-opening race at Daytona. In the past five races, he’s had four finishes outside the top 20, dropping from 12th to 19th in the series standings.
- IndyCar driver Conor Daly will drive a third Roush Fenway Racing Ford at Road America on August 25. It will be his first attempt at NASCAR.