Ross Chastain had aspirations for winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series title in 2019. He will still compete for a racing championship on Friday night (Nov. 15) at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it will be for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series instead.
“Honestly, if you back up to November , the goal was get to Homestead, winning a championship,” Chastain said. “I think I just had the title down wrong for the series, I guess. This is what moves your career along, performing on track.”
Chastain had a NXS deal with Chip Ganassi Racing signed for this year, but his goal was dashed when the FBI raided the team’s sponsor DC Solar and the team was forced to shut down due to lack of funding. Instead, Chastain turned his sights to running as many national touring series races as possible in underfunded equipment. He raced in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Premium Motorsports, Xfinity for JD Motorsports, then Kaulig Racing and Trucks for Niece Motorsports.
When the season is over, Chastain will have competed in 77 of a possible 92 races across the sport’s top three series.
“I’m tired,” he said about the feat. “The best part about it is that if I had a bad race, I had another one in a couple of days and I would forget about it. That was the good thing. The bad part was when we did have a good race, I didn’t have any time to celebrate.
“Yeah, I’m tired, but the adrenaline at 26 years old does wonders.”
Chastain started 2019 running for Xfinity points, but it didn’t look like he was going to return to the playoffs. Meanwhile, he took Al Niece’s team to victory lane in Trucks for the first time ever at Kansas Speedway. Shortly thereafter, Chastain switched to start earning Gander Outdoors Series Truck Series points instead. However, none of his previous races counted, so he had to get another win and get inside the top 20 to qualify for the playoffs.
“I don’t know that I expected to get all the way here,” Chastain said. “The most immediate thing, and maybe a little short-sighted on my part, was the Triple Truck Challenge races that were right ahead of us.
“When the Xfinity side just started going the wrong direction, we had this opportunity where if nothing else, we get to run three more races than we thought we could run and maybe win some money for the team. We were short on budget, and everything’s gonna help.”
Chastain immediately won at Iowa Speedway, only to have it taken away after the truck failed post-race inspection.
“We set out to make the playoffs, and obviously we all know what happened with Iowa and all that,” he continued. “I think it made us stronger now. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
The team redeemed themselves the next race, winning at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Two weeks later, Chastain climbed into the top 20 in points and stayed there, qualifying for the postseason. He dominated at Pocono Raceway but hasn’t won in the eight races since then. Chastain more or less nickel-and-dimed his way through the postseason and into the Championship 4, a dip in performance Chastain was bummed about until he saw Niece.
“We ran ninth last week … so we got out and I was like, ‘OK, we made it to Homestead.’ And Phil [Gould], my crew chief, and our guys and girls, we kind of shook hands, and were like, ‘OK, cool. That kind of stunk.’ And Al [Niece] comes up, big smile, hugs us all, thanks us all so much for getting us to Homestead, and that kind of brought it back into us. And he’s like, ‘Why stop now? Why don’t we go down there and do something?’ and got us all smiling again and we were high-fiving,” Chastain said. “It kind of brought it all into perspective.”
Now, Chastain and the team set their sights on the Florida finale. It’s a home track for the 26-year-old driver from Alva, Fla. and winning the title there would be sentimental.
“Every year of my career, Homestead was what set up my next year,” Chastain said. “It’s where I set up a lot of my funding, a lot of people came who funded me with the Florida Watermelon Association, different watermelon farmers and different people in the industry. So I always use this as the spark for the next year … I’ve took a lot of sponsorship dollars and put them all on Homestead for a truck and Xfinity car and tried to go outperform and we did in both. That’s what got me the ride with Johnny Davis Motorsports in the No. 4 car.”
Chastain duplicated his previous Homestead schedule this week, spending the week in Fort Myers, Fla., and meeting with his supporters. He comes from a family of watermelon farmers and that’s likely what he would be doing if not racing. And even if he was a watermelon farmer, the competitive drive would still make him want to be the best.
“That’s why we do it,” Chastain said. “I started in the fast truck kid class at 12 years old in 2005. They didn’t pay you. Maybe 2006. They couldn’t pay you because you’re a minor. You have this tiny little trophy. That’s all I wanted … For three years, that’s all we raced for. We spent thousands of dollars. We have 20 trophies from it. That meant more to us than anything, than what the adult class was paying $750 or $1,000 each night to win. It didn’t matter. Was all about the trophy.
“The addictive side of racing for me, I think a lot of it starts with those trophies at the smallest level, go karts. Whether it’s a ribbon or a plaque, that’s what drives us as competitors. It’s not the healthiest thing to have that addiction for trophies, but that’s what we have. I guess it’s a better addiction than other things.
“I don’t mean to make it sound bad. I wanted that to come out right. That could come out really wrong. But I have an addiction, and it’s winning and trophies. That’s all I get up and think about, winning NASCAR races or growing the best watermelon crop, whatever it is.”
To win this title, Chastain will have to beat out Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen and Matt Crafton. Moffitt’s team, GMS Racing, supplies equipment to Niece as well as Friesen’s team, Halmar Racing. Chastain said they get no further help from GMS outside of that.
“It will be what Niece Motorsports does, It’s all us,” Chastain said. “Don’t care about them [GMS]. Don’t care about anything there. It’s only about us. I would honestly say it’s maybe two against two. Maybe two against one against one. Yeah, we get a little blank canvas, but we do the rest. Nothing there.”
Niece is still considered a small team growing — a team that didn’t even have a top 10 prior to this year. Chastain said most of the guys on his team “probably couldn’t get a job anywhere else.”
“We’re just racers,” he said. “We’re a bunch of misfits, honestly.”
A bunch of misfits well positioned for an unlikely NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series title.