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Entering Friday’s (Nov. 15) Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Ross Chastain was a co-favorite. Throughout the race, the No. 45 truck fell off.
Starting from third position, Chastain rocketed to the lead on the opening lap. The No. 45 Chevrolet stayed up front for the opening 28 laps, though got loose with two laps to go in the first stage, allowing Austin Hill get by for the stage win.
In the second stage, Chastain remained toward the front, though Matt Crafton got by toward the end of the stage for what was the points lead. However, he did remain ahead of Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen, both whom remained in the top five.
Come the final stage — a stage that went caution-free — Chastain fell outside the top five on a pit stop, electing to put a spring rubber in the left rear. On the final pit stop, the No. 45 truck gained time, though not enough to pass Crafton, who went on to win the championship.
Chastain took the checkered flag in fourth, just over nine seconds behind Crafton.
“I’m a racer, I want to win,” Chastain said post-race. “I was trying to manage to those guys and I felt like we did a good job in those first two stages. The [No.] 16 was by far the best truck, the [No.] 88 came on strong in that final run. Once he got clean air on the other three of us, it was game over and we were fighting for second at that point.”
At the beginning of 2019, Chastain wasn’t planning on running the entire Truck Series schedule, rather competing for the Xfinity Series title. Four months into the season, the budget got tight at JD Motorsports, and Chastain got a waiver from NASCAR to change series, declaring for Truck points for Niece Motorsports after not missing a race.
Chastain had to win and make up over 100 points over the final eight races of the regular season. In his first race out, he was the first to take the checkered flag at Iowa Speedway, though failed inspection post-race, meaning the No. 45 was credited with zero points.
The next race out at Gateway, Chastain won. Over the next two races, he found himself inside the top 20 in points, making him eligible for the championship.
“We wrote a new story, it hasn’t been done,” Chastain said of his season. “Proud of the effort all year. We started out with a handful of races. A calendar year ago, I was going to run five races in Al’s [Niece, team owner] truck. Whenever everything went down over the offseason, it was as many races as possible, but it was still going to be in the teens.
“When stuff went down on the Xfinity side and it became apparent we weren’t going to be competitive and push forward and maybe not run all the races, it was a no-brainer and Al was 100% on board. That was about the four nights of the scariest time of my, thinking of switching points, because it had not been done before. Never on purpose. It’s pretty crazy that we did that and made it to Homestead and finished the best out of the Chevys.”
Chastain confirmed he will run as many races as possible in 2020 for the team, though his primary focus will be on the Xfinity championship, running the full season for Kaulig Racing.
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