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2021 NASCAR Preseason Power Rankings, No. 21: Ross Chastain

Ross Chastain may not be a household name in the NASCAR Cup Series, but Chastain has secured a full-time, competitive ride for the 2021 season in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing car.

Even though it was not easy, Chastain showed his grit by racing up the racing ladder.

A Look Back

After winning in an Xfinity Series car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2018 for the team, Chastain signed a deal to drive for CGR for the 2019 Xfinity season. Unfortunately for Chastain, DC Solar, the main sponsor for Chastain, ran into legal trouble, and the team folded.

Even still, Chastain proved to be durable and productive, as he competed in 77 races between the top three NASCAR series while scoring four wins, 12 top fives and 25 top 10s.

For the 2020 season, Chastain signed with Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series. He had a rocky start in 2020 by DNQing at Daytona International Speedway race and buying a spot from Jeff Green and RSS Racing.

But after Daytona, Chastain went on a hot streak. Between the second race of the season at Las Vegas to the regular-season finale at Bristol Motor Speedway, Chastain only finished outside the top 10 twice in 25 races.

Chastain finished the season seventh in points. Even though Chastain did not win a race, Chastain had the most top 10s in the series and the best average finishing position among drivers with more than two starts. Though he was overshadowed by drivers like Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe, Chastain proved that he can score top 10s week in and week out.

That led the rumor mill to place Chastain the lead candidate to fill the No. 42 Cup seat for 2021 due to the departure of Kyle Larson, as he had strong connections with CGR — a rumor that eventually became reality when he was announced as the No. 42’s 2021 driver.

Promising Venues

Chastain doesn’t have to look any further than the Daytona 500 for a shot to win. At the 2019 Daytona 500, he scored his career-best finish in the Cup Series with a 10th-place finish for Premium Motorsports. Meanwhile, at the 2020 Daytona 500, Chastain was going for the lead with two laps to go until Ryan Preece tried to block Chastain. Chastain and eight other drivers were involved in a wreck, and he ended up 25th. Chastain would be a dark horse to win a superspeedway race, as he has been in contention in several Xfinity races at Daytona and Talladega.

Besides the superspeedway races, look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Richmond Raceway as two other tracks at which Chastain could shine. He scored his best finish at a non-superspeedway track at Indianapolis last season. Chastain will look to do well at the flatter tracks on the schedule as he had some great runs in the Xfinity Series at Richmond and its sister track, Iowa Speedway. If Chastain gets a grip on the flatter tracks, the potential of the No. 42 team looks strong.

2021 Scenarios

After coming off a rough 2020 season with Matt Kenseth after Larson’s firing, Chastain will look to bring the No. 42 team up to speed. One advantage that Chastain has is that the team had the offseason to regroup instead of scrambling to find a driver.

The 2020 season was drastic compared to previous years. From 2016-2019, the No. 42 team scored six wins and made the playoffs four times with Larson. In 2020, the car finished 22nd in owners points and only had five top fives.

The worst-case 2021 scenario for the No. 42 is to struggle as it did in 2020, while the best-case scenario is the No. 42 car to improve to where it’s in the hunt for a playoff spot. The No. 42 car might need some time to be up to par with the No. 1 team, but it is going to be sooner rather than later.

Outlook

After starting his career in 2011 in the Camping World Truck Series, the Watermelon Man should soak in and seize the moment that he is in the Cup Series full time with a competitive team.

The biggest thing for Chastain to learn in 2021 is not consistency but overperforming what the car has. If Chastain can take a top-15 car into the top 10, 2021 will be a good year for the No. 42 team.

2021 should be another stepping stone for Chastain, who just might be the future of CGR. He should strive to work well with the team so that he can be in the playoff picture in 2022.

While the team may not be a contender out of the gate, there is nothing but watermelon sugar to look forward to for the No. 42 team in 2021 and beyond. 

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Roger

This guy is what short track fans call a dirty driver. The writer should have asked Harvick what his impression was of this bozo. He’d stuff his Grandmother into the wall if she was in his way.

Bill B

If he doesn’t leave those tactics behind him he will not do well in Cup. A rookie will be shown the wall weekly if he doesn’t earn some respect before he tries bullying his way through the field.

joe

so would harvick

WJW Motorsports

Most like the watermelon man so he gets cut a lot of slack for his driving antics – he’s almost the anti-Joey in that regard. Top of my head Allgaier is the only one I recall sending him the message on track though.. Either way – having a driver like him out there is good for the sport.

Jill P

He earned the ride which is more than I can say for a lot of drivers in the sport.

Steven

The writer failed to mention the time Chastain punched another driver in the face. Yeah fantastic journalism for sure.

Kevin Rutherford

oh dang man so sorry he didn’t bring something up that happened in 2017, damn this piece is GARBAGE

JT

CGR, as an organization, will struggle this year. They are facing “clawback” lawsuits demanding return of sponsorship funds received from DC Solar, due to the latter’s financial fraud conviction. I’ve read that CGR received over $20M from DC Solar during their sponsorship relationship. Paying that back will put a huge hole in CGR’s budget.

Chastain was given this ride because he was affordable salary-wise and already under contract to CGR. However, his unsuccessful stint subbing for Ryan Newman last season showed that he might not be ready for Cup. Also, if Ross starts the season out wrecking cars, I wonder just how short a leash Chip will have attached to him?

It could be that CGR may call it a day in NASCAR after this season and retreat back to IndyCar where they have enjoyed more success. Kurt Busch is on a one-year contract extension and is at that age where NASCAR drivers are expected to retire. Chastain will probably have an escape route to Kaulig Racing, who is looking to run full-time Cup as soon as next season. It is even possible that Kaulig will buy CGR’s charters…

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