Ross Chastain got to NASCAR's top level the hard way. He had been in the Truck Series since 2011, starting part-time with funded rides in low-end trucks. He did not win his first national-level race until an Xfinity Series start in 2018, his first-ever appearance with Chip Ganassi Racing ahead of what was expected to be a full schedule in 2019. That fell apart when Chastain's new sponsor, DC Solar, proved to be part of what the Department of Justice called a "billion dollar Ponzi scheme." He landed in a full-time Cup Series ride with the team in 2021 anyway, a result of their unexpected opening when Kyle Larson was fired months earlier. Then, halfway through 2021, Chip Ganassi Racing's NASCAR program was sold to the upstart Trackhouse Racing.
Trackhouse owner Justin Marks ended up hiring Chastain to join the second-year program with big ambitions. The growth was immediate: After failing to finish at Daytona and struggling at Fontana, Chastain finished third, second, and second in the next three races. With one to go, he found himself in a battle with AJ Allmendinger and destined for another top three finish. He had no interest in that finish being second.
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Chastain was leading when Allmendinger bumped him off track on a corner exit, taking the lead himself. The hit allowed Alex Bowman to move to second, but Chastain got back to Allmendinger's bumper two turns later and gave him a retaliatory hit from behind under braking. That sent Allmendinger into Bowman, who would have otherwise taken the lead with a corner to go, clearing the way for Chastain's long-awaited first career win. Alex Bowman would finish third anyway; the part-time Allmendinger would fail to finish the race.
Before the late drama, the story of the day was a seemingly endless barrage of spins and confusing track limits rulings. Early leader Daniel Suarez, Chastain's teammate at a two-car Trackhouse operation, was spun from the mid-pack on the race's first restart after choosing to stop under the previous caution. Daytona 500 winner and early contender Austin Cindric was spun twice, with the second wiping out a recovery drive back into the top ten. Chase Briscoe was not spun, but he was shoved off track on a late restart in a way that led him to both lose positions and illegally cut a corner; NASCAR later chose not to penalize him, but he fell out of contention anyway.
Each caution was about ten minutes long, a result of NASCAR's commitment to their full-length pit procedure. Many of those cautions could have been avoided entirely with local yellows for individual spins, but NASCAR instead chooses to call full course yellows whenever a car needs a recovery of any sort. It showed that NASCAR has serious work to do if it wants to be taken seriously as a road racing series, which it now chooses to be six times a year.
That major rule issue is something to fix. Until then, the series can take some pride in how well its Next Gen car raced on a road course that is not suited to stock car racing at all. With five more road course races left this year, a better rulebook could create some special races.
The Cup Series has just one off weekend all season and it isn't coming any time soon, so NASCAR is racing again next week. That race is at Richmond, a flat .75 mile track halfway between a traditional short track and the flat mile intermediates at Phoenix and New Hampshire.
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