LAS VEGAS – Two weeks ago at Darlington, Ross Chastain showcased his potential in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, leading 90 laps before falling out of the race in a dust-up with veteran Kevin Harvick.
In Saturday’s DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his second trip in Ganassi’s car, Chastain closed the deal, surviving three restarts in the final 20 laps to earn his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in his 132nd start.
Chastain led 180 of 200 laps and swept the first two stages at the 1.5-mile track. To cement the victory, he held of five-time winner Justin Allgaier, who clinched the regular-season championship and accompanying 15-Playoff-point bonus after finishing fifth in Stage 2.
“Holy cow! I’m just a watermelon farmer from Florida—I’m not supposed to do that,” said Chastain, who carried one of his trademark watermelons to Victory Lane. “This shows you anything in your life is possible. I gave one away at Darlington, and this was awesome racing.
“I never thought this would happen. It’s incredible. Allgaier was awesome. He’s insane. I had to play possum there (on the restarts) and then changed it up. The car was just amazing. This was all we could ask for. We did it!”
In a car that showed its superiority on longer runs, Chastain was forced to win the race in short sprints. Vinnie Miller’s spin on Lap 175 caused the sixth caution and forced a restart on Lap 181. Trying to side-draft Allgaier right after the cars took off, Chastain brushed the side of Allgaier’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet and kept the lead.
On a Lap 188 restart, after Chase Briscoe’s brutal crash into the inside backstretch wall, Chastain moved up the track to block Allgaier’s run into Turn 1—and kept the lead.
On the final restart with five laps left, after a five-car pileup slowed the race for the eighth time, Chastain cleared Allgaier through Turns 1 and 2 but got a tap from the No. 7 car that propelled him forward down the backstretch.
Chastain pulled out to a 1.629-second lead at the finish.
Allgaier confessed to a moment of frustration after the side-to-side contact on Lap 181 but had cooled down by the time the final restart rolled around.
“I tried everything I could do to pass him as clean as I could,” Allgaier said. “That restart there, I thought we had a good shot at it. We had done a good job on the regular-season championship and had locked it up… what I was afraid of was blowing the left-rear tire. We had made contact right at the left rear tire, and that was my biggest fear.
“But Ross did a great job today and had by far the best car… At the end of the day, it’s cool to see him get the win. If we couldn’t do it, I’m glad to see him the win.”
Cole Custer ran third and claimed a bonus of 10 playoff points for finishing second in the regular season. Christopher Bell was fourth, followed by Elliott Sadler. Ryan Preece, Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex, Austin Cindric and Spencer Gallagher completed the top 10.
A bone-jarring wreck in Turn 4 interrupted Chastain’s dominance of the first two stages. Matt Tifft’s No. 2 Chevrolet turned sideways in the middle of the corner, right into the path of Ryan Reed’s No. 16 Ford. Reed slammed into the front-left of Tifft’s Chevy, and both cars rocketed into the outside wall.
Reed climbed from his car and sat down on the asphalt, leaning against the car door as he collected himself.
“I haven’t seen the replay, so I don’t know exactly what happened,” Reed said after exiting the infield care center. “Not sure if he lost a tire or what. That was a tough one. Knocked the wind out of me pretty bad. The right side is all banged up.
“I’m all good. Nothing broken or anything. I’ll just be sore tomorrow. Thankfully, everyone on our Ford Mustang worked really hard this weekend. I feel like we were getting it better and able to run the top 10 once we got the car a little better. It just got cut short, unfortunately.”
The only consolation for the early exit is that Tifft already had secured a position in the playoffs, and Reed locked himself into the final berth despite falling out in 35th place.
Cindric also claimed a position in the playoffs, which will feature the following 12 drivers, in order of seeding: Allgaier, Bell, Sadler, Custer, Tyler Reddick, Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Jones, Tifft, Truex, Cindric and Reed.
Pit notes: Two Xfinity Series teams were penalized with the loss of their car chiefs prior to the start of Saturday’s race. Both the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team of Tifft and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team of Jones saw their car chiefs ejected and were assessed 30-minute practice holds for next week at Richmond after failing pre-qualifying inspection three times at Las Vegas. Tifft also was assessed a loss of 10 points in the owner and driver standings and had to serve a pass-thru penalty at the start of the race for failing pre-qualifying inspection four times.
Contributing: Staff report