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Close call holds extra sting for Chastain

November 08, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

20-year-old finishes as runner-up for the second time this season

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- As Ross Chastain climbed out of his truck on pit road, he was bathed in the smoke of the burnout that Erik Jones had unleashed along the frontstretch. While the 17-year-old Jones became the youngest winner in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history, the 20-year-old Chastain was left to rue one that got away.

Jones muscled past Chastain with nine laps remaining Friday, winning what turned into a duel between a pair of young drivers at Phoenix International Raceway. For Chastain, the sting of coming up short was bad enough -- but there was also the realization that he might be running out of chances like he had on the desert mile, given that next week's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be his last start in his Brad Keselowski Racing truck.

"I realize now that these are my last two races," said Chastain, from Alva, Fla. "Homestead is it now, we've go to go down there and win if I'm going to have a shot to stay in this sport. We've at least got to go run good. Tonight we did everything but win. It's no added pressure knowing that it's the last race. It's still in the back of your mind, though."

Friday marked the second runner-up finish for Chastain, who is making 14 starts this year in the No. 19 truck for BKR. Afterward, his team owner walked over to shake his hand and tell him he did a good job. Chastain led 63 laps and elbowed his way past Jones to retake the front spot with 31 laps remaining, but a caution for an accident involving Darrell Wallace Jr. and Timothy Peters gave the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver one last chance that he made the best of.

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"I did everything I could. I took his line away, about wrecked on restarts. Pushed the limits on everything," said Chastain, who also finished second at Iowa in September.

"It's disheartening for sure, to know there's only one race left this year and that’s probably going to be my last shot in this truck. I don’t know what else I could have done besides wreck him, and that’s not what I'm out here to do."

Once he got out front, Jones clearly had the superior truck, and he raced to victory to give KBM its sixth win this season. Chastain's vehicle was just too tight in the final laps, so he wasn't able to give chase in what might have been his best chance to win this year.

"Only running 14 races each year, it's tough to come to the race track each week and know exactly how to respond to the characteristics the truck has," he said. "I'm out of it for weeks, sometimes months at a time. I'm not racing anything else, I don’t have money to go run a late model. This is it. This is what I'm trying to do, and it's tough."

Even so, it was a long way from this race a year ago, where Chastain was driving for a smaller team and pulled off the track early with a vehicle that was uncompetitive. Now he's trying to use performances like Friday night's to continue his climb up the ladder. "The good Lord put me here, and I'm trying to do everything I can to stay around," he said. But it's not easy.

"This is a money-driven sport, and I don’t have any money," Chastain said. "I don’t know what I'm going to do. If I can find a ride to be competitive like we have been, great. If not, I'll go back to the watermelon farm and watch the races on TV."

Chastain was born on his family's watermelon farm in southwest Florida, and next week at Homestead will race a truck backed by the National Watermelon Association. Although his future appears uncertain after that, all he can do is head south and make one more run at winning his first national-series race.

"You're so close to winning in NASCAR, and you can't get it done," Chastain said. "… I don’t know. I've got Homestead, and we're going to go win in the watermelon truck. That’s all I can say."

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