Owner Chip Ganassi has a saying: “Do the obvious things right.”
The saying was on the mind of crew chief Phil Surgen Sunday (June 20) with about 73 laps left in the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway.
That’s when he called Ross Chastain to pit road from third under caution. He was only there after the No. 42 team elected to stay out of the pits under yellow 10 laps earlier, giving him the lead.
“Your fuel window’s open,” Surgen told Frontstretch. “We’re 15 laps short. We got to pit.”
Chastain’s response came soon after Surgen’s instruction to do so.
“We’re in this bed, shouldn’t we lay in it?”
Over the next 68 caution-free laps, on tires 10 laps fresher compared to what the fuel-saving leaders were running, Chastain charged through the field. That push earned Chastain a second-place finish and his second career top five in Cup competition, his first on an oval.
The Ganassi driver had a different tune after the checkered flag.
“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Chastain told Surgen.
Chastain called the last 68 laps of Sunday’s race “humbling,” later adding, “I don’t expect to run second yet. I’m still learning.”
In the moment of his last pit stop, Chastain thought “there would be more cautions.”
“They know better than I do,” he said. “They also knew that we could make it to the end. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. So we would have to pit under green there even if we stayed in the top four or five. … I am sorry that I doubted them. Heat of the moment in the car. It’s really hot. I’m sweaty and tired. And I’m like, ‘Man, we’re running third and we’re gonna give this up.’ … I need to just drive.”
The second top five of Chastain’s Cup career came in his 97th start and after a bad qualifying run forced him to start 19th. It’s also his first top-10 finish on a non-superspeedway oval.
It’s part of a string of three top-10 performances in four races for Chastain. He finished fourth at Circuit of the Americas in the rain before placing seventh at Sonoma Raceway.
“Finally on a regular, old-circle track, that’s all I’m happy about,” Chastain said. “The road courses that I don’t really know why it’s happening. Like here, I know why. I know what we did. I know what I’m doing to drive the car and road courses, I’m just like, taking it all in. It’s not really pre-planned. This is pre-planned.”
Surgen called the race a “great team building day” the No. 42 team “really needed.”
“We have been quietly building consistency and fast cars,” Surgen said. “We had a rough few races.”
The No. 42 team started the season with just one finish better than 17th in the first five races. Surgen said the team’s chemistry with Chastain really began to gel in race No. 6, the March 21 event at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The process had been slowed by a lack of practice.
“First few races are kind of a roll of the dice,” Surgen explained. “‘What does Ross want to feel?’ We make our best guess. And we’ve been improving on it since … We’ve identified where he likes the balance of the car to be and, most importantly, I think the races where we were building and making progress together built confidence in him. It builds confidence in me and we’re able to communicate better now and just everything’s kind of helped itself.
“You know, it’s all so simple.”
The result of that simplicity was on display Sunday.
“It’s getting to a point where I can hustle,” said Chastain.