Ross Chastain has been criticized as reckless and overly aggressive, a driver who does not respect or deserve anything from his competitors.
His tough driving style paid off Sunday night when Chastain edged out Martin Truex Jr. to win the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway, his first victory in more than a year and the third victory of his career in the Ally Series. NASCAR Cup.
Chastain said everyone has to deal with criticism. His approach? He keeps working.
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«I have to tell you, a lot of self-reflection through all of this, but I had a group that believed in me and they wouldn’t let me get down,» Chastain said. «And they bring rockets, and I’m just trying to point them to victory lane.»
This was Chastain’s first win since Talladega in April 2022, and he drove his Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet to the team’s first win this year at his home track. Chastain had started on the pole for the first time in his career.
Trackhouse owner Justin Marks said he spoke to Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske for advice on handling a hard-charging driver after Chastain’s late crash on a restart at Darlington put him out of contention at both he and Hendrick star Kyle Larson as they raced for the lead.
Marks compared Chastain’s learning curve to that of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, aggressive drivers who had to learn how to race in Cup. Marks called this a «huge win» for Trackhouse and a great moment for Chastain, who went three wide during a critical four-lap stretch.
«It says we have an opportunity to win so many races and compete and win … championships in the series and such a bright future ahead of us,» Marks said. «And we are all super motivated and inspired for the future.»
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Chastain entered fourth in the season points race and ended up leading a race-high 100 laps on the 1.33-mile concrete D-shaped oval. That included the final 34 laps, as the 30-year-old had to navigate slower traffic to hold Truex by 0.789 seconds.
The driver known as «Melon Man» celebrated his playoff qualification with exhaustion before crashing a watermelon at the start and finish line. Chastain shared part of the watermelon with fans, kept a piece on top of his car, and took it to the media center with him.
Truex led 50 laps as the season points leader tried to string together back-to-back wins. He won at Sonoma before NASCAR’s only break in the 38-race season.
«That close again,» said Truex, who posted his sixth top-five finish and extended his points lead. «We keep doing that, we’ll be fine.»
Truex finished ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, both in Toyotas. Chase Elliott was fourth and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson was fifth.
ROSS CHASTAIN SEEKS FIRST WIN OF TRACKHOUSE RACING SEASON AT NASHVILLE
Hamlin led 81 laps and said he thought he had a third-place car with Truex a bit better.
«The 1 (Chastain) obviously came in strong at the end,» Hamlin said. «We gave ourselves a chance, we just didn’t have a fast enough car to go up there and compete.»
Tyler Reddick started alongside Chastain on the front row and went on to win the first stage.
As they started the second leg, Truex went three wide in front with Chastain and William Byron for some exciting racing at a track known for boring competition for years after it opened in 2001.
Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was chaotic, with warnings from the first lap.
Sunday’s second caution didn’t come until lap 138, when Reddick lost his right rear tire trying to get his Toyota onto pit road just after coming into pit lane. His car broke loose and he spun into the grass with the tire sticking out at the entrance to pit road.
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With the Trackhouse based in the Nashville area, Chastain crew chief Phil Surgen said the team’s failure to win at their «home» track was beginning to creep into everyone’s minds. This win ends that relatively short drought for a team Marks put together in 2020.
«This is the race I want to win more than any of the races besides the one they have in Florida and the one they have in Arizona,» Marks said. «So it’s a big day for us.»
Chastain has now finished in the top five in all three Cup races at Nashville.
The third caution of four in the race came on lap 146 at the restart down the frontstretch when Ryan Blaney crashed head-on into an inside wall after he was rear-ended by Kyle Busch with Alex Bowman also involved. Blaney stepped out of the infield spotlight after what he called the hardest hit of his life.
Blaney said he checked on the restart and was hit from behind, then was unable to right his Ford after hitting the grass. He called it «pretty ridiculous» that there wasn’t a more secure barrier on the infield wall.
«It sucks to go home early,» Blaney said.
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Bubba Wallace made his 200th Cup Series start, looking to add to his two career wins and 15 top-five finishes. He started ninth in the No. 23 Toyota of 23XI Racing and finished 15th.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
NASCAR holds a street race on July 2 in downtown Chicago.