By Zach Sturniolo
Published: 16 Oct, 2022
4 Minute Read
LAS VEGAS — Ross Chastain fell one spot short of punching his ticket to the Championship 4 for the first time in his young NASCAR Cup Series career.
Instead, a runner-up effort at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the opening race of the Round of 8 left the Trackhouse Racing driver second in points with two contests ahead of the title race after Joey Logano passed him with three laps to go.
MORE: Official results | At-track photos
Sitting next in line to a Championship 4 advancement, it was an afternoon of mixed emotions for the two-time 2022 winner.
“It’s a really, really, really good kind of hurt, but it hurts,” Chastain said.
Chastain pounced to the lead after a restart with 16 laps to go, diving to the inside of Turn 3 to make a three-wide pass on Chase Briscoe and Justin Haley for the advantage. But restarting eighth with fresher tires was Logano, who made a charge of his own after pitting for fresh tires with 20 laps to go.
Chastain fought valiantly to defend his potential title ticket but ultimately couldn’t fend off Logano any more than he did.
“I’m sure I can look back and find little things [to do differently],” Chastain said. “The obvious one is when he got inside of me in three and four, right? If I just don’t commit to the top on entry, and I just thought I could rip the top and stay in front of him one more time. He had a lot of grip.”
He also had plenty of praise for Logano, who clinched his fifth Championship 4 berth in the last nine seasons.
“I hope I’m racing that guy for wins in the Cup Series for a long time to come,” Chastain said. “And I think it’s gonna be a fun career if that’s the case.”
Logano noted the shared respect between the two competitors, who has had his fair share of run-ins with competitors as he becomes a regular frontrunner in the top level of stock-car racing.
“Ross and I have a great relationship,” Logano said. “I’ve talked to him a lot and we have a mutual understanding of how each other races, and honestly we work together pretty well on the racetrack. And I knew coming down to the end, I had a tire advantage. And I knew what was on the line, right? It’s a championship — a possible championship on the line right now. And I thought, ‘boy, he’s gonna be willing to do a lot to get in.'”
Chastain’s regular season was dotted with bent fenders and hurt feelings but he eventually began racing more conservatively as the playoffs neared. Crew chief Phil Surgen saw his driver’s aggression — if more calculated — was back in a big way Sunday in Sin City.
“We’ve seen it in previous races and this is the time to use it,” Surgen told NASCAR.com. “Going for the lead, late-race restart, that’s when the gloves are off and he drove a great race today. There was you know a couple-lap older tires [on his car], not a lot he could do. Really proud of him today. He had a great race.”
In addition to his second-place finish, Chastain netted seven stage points courtesy of a fourth-place finish in Stage 2. With Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway remaining as the barrier to a potential title run, the Las Vegas result was ultimately one Trackhouse can leave smiling about.
“It’s a really good day,” Surgen said. “That’s the kind of day we needed. And unfortunately when you have an opportunity to win and it comes down to two and a half laps at the end, it’s a stinger but really proud of this group.”
NASCAR hasn’t raced at Homestead since February 2021, where Chastain finished 17th for Chip Ganassi Racing, but he has a fifth-place finish at Martinsville earlier this season to reflect on.
No matter what happens now, Surgen stressed the focus has to remain on the task at hand.
“I think the mentality is to understand where you’re at, understand the information you have, look ahead at the next race and forget about all the outside pressure,” said Surgen, who’s also navigating his first run through the Round of 8. “Just maximize the day. It’s no penalties. It’s being really clean. It’s the good pit stops, fast cars and just optimize what you have that day and don’t let those outside influences affect your decisions.
“We’re here because we’ve been good all season. We’ve been consistent. We’ve been fast and we can’t let any of that go.”
The Round of 8 continues at Homestead-Miami on Oct. 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.