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May 10, 2024

From journeyman to Cup Series star, Ross Chastain’s ‘incredible’ path to 200 starts


Ross Chastain looks on
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

Whether it’s planting seeds on his watermelon farm or delivering maiden victories for multiple NASCAR teams, Ross Chastain has been digging roots his own way for his whole life.

When the green flag drops for Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), it will mark a milestone 200th NASCAR Cup Series start for the 31-year-old Alva, Florida, native.

Chastain’s rise to NASCAR’s highest division has been well-documented. A driver trying to carve his path through the ranks based on high-quality results, Chastain considers this point of his career ‘surprising’ after making his national series debut over a decade ago just to cross off a bucket list item for his racing venture.

“My career in NASCAR started as one Truck race at IRP in Indianapolis, and it was a bucket list thing that my family and I, we had won a lot of late model races, really about all we could down in South Florida,” Chastain told NASCAR.com “We wanted to keep doing it, but we felt like that if we could do one thing, it would be to make it to NASCAR in the trucks and just do it one time. We did that in 2011 and somehow that one race turned into four more, turned into a full season and I just haven’t stopped. I’ve just tried to keep it moving.”

That originally planned one-off Craftsman Truck Series race resulted in a top 10 for Chastain.

RELATED: Chastain through the years | Darlington schedule

In 2012, Chastain ran his first full-time NASCAR season in the Truck Series for owner Bobby Dotter and SS-Green Light Racing and then began making a name for himself running for Brad Keselowski’s Truck Series team in 2013.

Splitting time in the Xfinity and Truck series from 2014-2016, Chastain got a dream opportunity. However, it was one he admittedly wasn’t expecting at the time.

“I told the group that was putting together my first Cup start for Dover in 2017, I told them ‘No, I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I was ready,’ ” Chastain said. “And then I went home and slept on it, woke up and drove back down and thought I probably should reconsider this and take this opportunity. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again. So it’s kind of like that first Truck start. I just wanted to, at that point, do a Cup race one time to say I did it and now we’re at 200. It’s incredible.”

Ross Chastain drives at Daytona
Sarah Crabill | Getty Images

After making his Cup debut with Premium Motorsports, the floodgates opened for Chastain’s success at the national series level.

He collected his first win in the Xfinity Series with former NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi at Las Vegas, followed by four victories combined at the Xfinity and Truck level highlighted by earning Niece Motorsports its first victory.

Chastain credited his quick-learning driving style to then-Premium Motorsports owner Jay Robinson as the organization showed up to race weekend just wanting to finish races.

“I just thought the way that they prepared and the way that Jay coached me was such a unique thing that I had never had before,” Chastain said. “Even Trucks and Xfinity, when I was in lower-funded or mid or back to the pack teams, the goal was to try to win. Like we’re gonna put it all in and we’re gonna go. And Jay was different. Jay was very intentional with what he did. He ran it as a business.

“Him coaching me on the radio back then was so, so valuable and I think for every driver as they ascend through the ranks and they usually have somebody that leaves an impact and for me, Jay in that very intentional way of going about things on the track was important.”

As Chastain turned to full-time Cup racing in 2021 and eventually earning his Trackhouse Racing home its first win and his maiden Cup triumph in 2022, there were mishaps and mistakes that came along with it as Chastain tried to earn respect on the track.

When teams have told him to “just race, go win and bring the steering wheel back,” Chastain responded as such, and while the eight-year Cup veteran has racked up four victories, his assertive moments led to heated dustups on-track with Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, ultimately reaching a breaking point at Darlington last year when Rick Hendrick put the No. 1 Trackhouse Chevy driver on blast during a press conference.

“I’ve definitely overstepped that line and wished I could have some of those moments back but finding a happy medium as we go,” Chastain said.

Checking off a career highlight at Darlington this weekend seems fitting for a driver who’s made his own roots as NASCAR celebrates its history with teams donning throwback paint schemes across all three series.

The historic South Carolina oval has given fits to Chastain so far at the Cup level, but his most recent effort at Darlington bore a fifth-place result in last year’s Southern 500.

Regardless of his success at the track, Chastain always welcomes a trip down to The Palmetto State.

“It’s my favorite track just hands down,” Chastain said. “I’d race a wheelbarrow around it and be happy. But the thought that I’ve got it figured it out is definitely no. I continue to learn, continue to study it and keep up with the aging process as the asphalt gets older. We’ve had some good runs and not great finishes, some OK. Yeah, definitely looking to tie it all together. I mean, it’s just such a challenging track and I love it so much for that.”

After 199 starts in the Cup Series, Chastain has become a fan favorite and among NASCAR’s superstars.

From earning the admiration of blue-collar fans for his humble beginnings to making highlight reels on popular sports media outlets for his heart-stopping moments like the “Hail Melon” in 2022 at Martinsville to clinch a Championship 4 berth, Chastain has evolved into a driver anyone can get behind, and his ability to generate all-time moments matches well amid a season that has been one for the record books already.

Ross Chastain Martinsville
Stacy Revere | Getty Images

A lot of buzz was generated after Larson’s rousing Kansas victory that saw him ahead of Chris Buescher by 0.001 seconds, the closest finish in Cup Series history.

Heading into the rest of May with more moments to be made at NASCAR’s home-field trifecta of Darlington, North Wilkesboro Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, there’s a lot for fans to be excited about and Chastain feels the same way behind the wheel.

“That’s what the Cup Series is,” Chastain said. “That’s why it’s been so successful for so long. You have these moments where two of the best drivers in the sport right now go for the win and put on a heck of a show. I think it was a great race across the board from when I was up there earlier in the race and then we slipped back and other people went forward.

“It’s really a good time to be watching Cup racing in NASCAR and even better time for me to be in it.”

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