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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

XFINITY Breakdown: Ross Chastain Whips the Field to Score 1st NASCAR Victory

Three weeks ago, Chip Ganassi Racing announced it would sign on Ross Chastain for three races in the XFINITY Series. And it only took him two races in the No. 42 ride to find Victory Lane.

Chastain didn’t get the best qualifying lap in, lining up fifth for Saturday’s DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But on lap four, the No. 42 car took the lead and never looked back.

Picking up two playoff points by winning the opening two stages, Chastain set himself up in prime position for the final stage. Though having to battle Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer late in the going, Chastain kept the pedal to the metal on late-race restarts, scoring his first-career victory in NASCAR.

“That is insane,” Chastain said after the win. “It was scary to take it [the deal with Chip Ganassi Racing]. We have such a good deal with the [No.] 4 car, and I can’t thank Johnny Davis and Gary Keller enough. To put me in that car four years ago was what I needed for my career, and nobody believed in me like they did. Everyone told me it was the wrong move to go there…

“It’s been a month since I’ve known about this, and no matter what happens — if I go back and grow watermelons tomorrow, I will have no regrets. They gave me an awesome car. We did it.”

Allgaier finished second en route to the regular-season title. Custer finished third, while Christopher Bell and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five.

The Good

After seven months of hard-nosed racing, the XFINITY Series playoff field is finally set and Justin Allgaier picked up 15 playoff points for winning the regular-season championship.

The No. 7 team finished the regular season with five victories — the most in the series. Allgaier has led a career-high 575 laps and is on top of many peoples’ list of potential championship winners.

Oh yeah, so is Christopher Bell. The No. 20 team will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed with 32 playoff points and four victories. Until the beginning of August, the rookie looked to be the odds-on favorite to win the title.

Elliott Sadler and Cole Custer are tied for the No. 3 seed, and though neither driver has won a race yet, each have 10 playoff points. Following the top four seeds, it begins to level off, though circumstances could depend on who makes it to Homestead.

Tyler Reddick and Chastain both earned victories during the regular season to receive playoff points, but finishing in the top 10 in points also gave the team an added boost, totaling 10 points. Daniel Hemric was in contention for many wins this year, though never sealing the deal, points racing to 10 playoff points as well.

Brandon Jones had a pair of stage wins to his credit this year, and with the bonus points for finishing in the top 10 in regular season points, he will enter the postseason with six playoff points. Matt Tifft and Ryan Truex have three apiece.

A pair of Fords will enter the postseason as the final two seeds. Austin Cindric earned a playoff point at Mid-Ohio, winning stage two while Ryan Reed is the lone driver in the series not to have at least one playoff point in his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

It’ll be interesting to see who make it to Homestead. Does Chastain winning give him more opportunities in the No. 42 car? If so, he may jump to the top of many lists due to his domination the two races he’s competed in with CGR. Allgaier enters the playoffs with a streak of 14 consecutive top-10 finishes, by far a career best. And you can’t leave out C-Bell — that No. 20 is always fast.

Throughout each of the three national touring series, the XFINITY Series has been the best this year. There is always action on the track, specifically for the lead. With seven races spanning over the final nine weeks of the NASCAR season, this is set up to be among the best title bouts since the inception of the current points format.

The Bad

There were a lot of things that could fit into the “bad” category for this race: Spins, hard crashes, blocking, etc. Michael Annett is at the top of the list, wrecking out on Lap 9 en route to finishing last.

Coming into the race, Annett basically needed to win in order to make the playoffs… driving for JR Motorsports. A driver shouldn’t be in that position in equipment that competitive. But with a dismal regular season, the No. 5 team didn’t accumulate enough points to make it in on points, unlike 2017.

On Lap 9, Annett and Ryan Preece made contact on the frontstretch, turning the No. 5 car into the grass where the front end was ripped off upon touching the green stuff. Grass is bad for racetracks, and valance should be used on racecars, specifically NASCAR.

However, I probably had better odds of winning the jackpot at one of the local casinos in Vegas than Annett did of winning this race. The No. 5 team hasn’t been in contention to win a race all season and unfortunately will miss the postseason.

In the opening 26 races of 2018, Annett has two… TWO top 10s for JRM. Say it like it is, he doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs this season, and he even admits the team has underperformed.

But don’t worry. While Elliott Sadler couldn’t find sponsorship, and ultimately decided to retire to spend more time with his family for 2019 and beyond, Annett will be back in the No. 5 for JRM next year. Hopefully, for his sake, it’s better than 2018.

The Ugly

There were some vicious incidents in this race, some that bear concern.

The backstretch at Las Vegas has caused some horrific crashes in past years. On Saturday, Chase Briscoe had one that had everyone hold their breath.

With less than 20 laps to go, battling three-wide inside the top 10, Briscoe got turned and plowed the inside wall. The No. 60 Ford hit the angled portion of the wall where the safety crews sit, which caused him to get airborne and ricochet off the SAFER barrier wall.

We were all just racing so hard,’ Briscoe said. “We were three-wide for pretty much a whole lap around there. There was just no room to go anywhere. We were having a heck of a run and this is by far the most comfortable I have felt in the car. I just hate it.”

In the past, we’ve seen Jeff Gordon injure his back after crashing into the inside wall at Vegas’ backstretch. Briscoe’s was a similar incident to this 2008 wreck — once the car got sideways, it’s damn near impossible to get that thing heading straight.

Times have changed, and the racecars have gotten even safer than a decade ago, but NASCAR needs to do something about the angle of some of these walls. The safety of the drivers is what’s most important, and seeing big hits like Briscoe’s is gnarly.

I’m not a scientist, nor do I have the capability of designing racetracks, but maybe every backstretch should have a wall with no openings. It’s not a hard fix. Yes, then the proponent of “where do safety trucks park” comes into play, but it’s possible to have openings at the end of the wall — exit of Turn 2, entry of Turn 3.

Larry MacReynolds has always said it best: Racecars will find the worst areas to crash. It’s happened for the past seven decades and will continue to be a cause for concern moving forward. 

Underdog Performance of the Race

JJ Yeley has had an up-and-down season with RSS Racing, primarily driving the No. 38 machine. He equaled his best finish of the season (11th) in Sin City after slipping by a late-race accident in Turn 1.

Sure, Yeley didn’t have the 11th-best car all race long, but he was able to avoid the misfortunes of others and race the No. 38 Chevrolet to a solid finish when the checkers flew.

In 2018, Yeley has competed in all but two XFINITY events, missing the second Iowa date as well as Road America three weeks back. However, when he’s been in the ride, it’s had flashes of brilliance, consistently running in the back half of the top 20. Meanwhile, when the final stage comes to a close, typically the NASCAR veteran is nowhere to be seen.

Why?

The team doesn’t typically have sponsorship, but there is a weekly bonus for teams sitting in the top 30 in owner’s points. Each team in the top 30 receives $6,000 from the current television contract, but in order to receive the money, the car needs to run at least half the race.

Currently, the No. 38 car sits 30th in points, and likely had to run the full race. Of the 24 races Yeley has competed in this year, 18 of them have been in the No. 38 ride. He’s finished just seven of them, making it to halfway in all of them.

Coming into Vegas, the No. 38 had fallen outside the top 30 in owner’s points. But with an 11th-place effort, the team now sits eight points ahead of the No. 01 team, driven by Vinnie Miller. It’s probable that Yeley will also run the whole event at Richmond next weekend, hoping to build a gap on 31st, still earning the weekly bonus.

RSS Racing is one of the competitive, yet severely underfunded teams in the series. Ryan Sieg mentioned to Frontstretch in June that the reason the company runs three cars each race is to fund the No. 39 ride, driven by Sieg. The team is always racing on scuffed tires, running the minimum to be competitive. That’s not a dig — it’s the truth, and they’ll tell you the same.

Double Duty Interlopers

Las Vegas was the regular-season cutoff for the XFINITY Series, meaning drivers who earn Cup Series points weren’t able to race, nor will they be able to in the playoffs.

Ironically enough, Chastain will indeed be in the Cup race, driving the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports, as he has in all but two races this season.

JJ Yeley, Landon Cassill (14th) and B.J. McLeod (19th) all had top-20 finishes and will be competing in Sunday’s Cup event. Timmy Hill will be the only other driver to pull double duty, finishing 32nd on Saturday.

Quotable

“Anything is possible.” – Ross Chastain

“We had times today where we were the fastest car. We just couldn’t keep it there consistently.” – Cole Custer

The experience I have been able to get working with three different crew chiefs and teams and building so many relationships over the course of the regular season has been really cool for me. I feel like I have three families in the garage area and I feel like that is something a lot of guys don’t have.” – Austin Cindric

Final Word

When Chip Ganassi Racing announced that Ross Chastain was going to be in the No. 42 car for three races, most people in NASCAR took to Twitter, congratulating him for doing it the right way. Hell, I even said on the Frontstretch Podcast last week when he was the guest, he’d win one of the final two scheduled races in the car. On Saturday, he paced the field for 180 of 200 laps, dominating the race — the same way Kyle Larson did at Vegas in March.

Chastain’s talents have been noticed over the past couple of seasons. However, if nothing else, he proved that there are many talented drivers in NASCAR, and if they could just get a similar opportunity, the next superstar could be born. Who knows, maybe that driver’s name is Ross Chastain.

Up Next

The XFINITY Series will kick off its postseason next Friday evening (Sept. 21) at Richmond Raceway. Christopher Bell dominated the final stage in the spring race en route to his first victory of 2018. The first round of the playoffs will be made up of Richmond, the Charlotte ROVAL and Dover.

About Dustin Albino

Dustin Albino
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2018 marks his fourth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be in the sport in some fashion. It's safe to say Dustin is living the dream.

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2 comments

  1. Last 2 weeks have shown he can wheel a competitive race car.

  2. Ross has a better chance to win a race without Harvick.

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