Ross Chastain is putting up incredible numbers in the NASCAR Cup Series, and it all stems from being quickly humbled just the second weekend into the season.
Chastain crashed hard moments into practice at Auto Club Speedway when the car got away from him in Turn 4 and shot up the track. The contact knocked the wind out of Chastain and totaled his primary car, forcing him to a backup car for the race. And then, in the race, Chastain spun again in Turn 4 (this time without contact) and finished 29th.
It was a turning point for the Trackhouse Racing driver because he believes he was “probably one of the more confident drivers” before that weekend. But that weekend has made Chastain take the slow and steady approach, being more aware of backing off and not stepping over the edge.
“This may sound a little odd, but I don’t think that there is a more nervous driver driving from Charlotte to Darlington (Friday) than me,” Chastain said. “I am nervous to drive on the track tomorrow in the car because I know how out of control they are, how quick they are to wreck. I know what the penalty is if we do wreck trying to get another car ready.
“So, I really believe that I will roll out there in practice and be at a very reduced rate, and my percentage of close to 10 – everybody’s is different – but for my scale, I’ll be scaled down X amount. X percent.”
Chastain has two wins in the last nine races with 243 laps led. It started with a third-place finish and 83 laps led at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Chastain also earned Trackhouse Racing its first stage win. In three months, he’s gone from 36th to sixth in the standings and has the second-most playoff points (11) in the series behind William Byron (13).
Over the last nine races, Chastain has an average finish of 7.6, and it could be remarkably higher if Richmond Raceway and the Bristol dirt race were taken out of the equation. Those have been Chastain’s two worst results, with a 19th at Richmond and a 33rd on the dirt when his engine overheated.
Exclude those, and Chastain hasn’t been outside the top five.
“That’s wild,” Chastain said while laughing. “That’s wild. I look at it and can’t believe it.”