Eleven years after embarking on his NASCAR career, Ross Chastain has no idea “what to expect” when it comes to his first NASCAR Cup Series playoff run.
But the Trackhouse Racing driver remembers last year. In his one and only season with Chip Ganassi Racing at the Cup level, Chastain missed out on the postseason. On playoff media day, Chastain was left to exercise on his own as all of his training partners went in front of cameras and microphones to preview the 10-race playoff.
“Sitting here, yes this is different,” Chastain said Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center. “That was humbling. I was out training and probably pushed myself too hard that day, but it was motivating. Not that pedaling the bike harder that day was going to make me get here. But it’s pretty wild to be here. I worked to get here, but I just never thought I would get here, honestly.”
But he is here.
Thanks to two race wins – at Circuit of the Americas and at Talladega Superspeedway – the 29-year-old Chastain put himself and Trackhouse Racing in the playoffs for the first time. Chastain and his teammate, Daniel Suarez, are both in the postseason in Trackhouse’s second overall season and its first as an independent team.
“This week has felt almost awkwardly normal. I didn’t expect that,” Chastain said. “This is the exact spot that I’ve worked really my entire racing career toward… 11 years of wanting to be, as silly as it sounds, at playoff media day in the Cup Series.”
When it comes to what he hopes to be able to do over the next 10 weeks, Chastain doesn’t think that question is “ready to be answered.”
“There are times this year where we did a really good job, and there are times this year where I did a really bad job behind the wheel,” Chastain observed. “It’s about finding the middle ground. We don’t have to have 10 weeks of the best that I’ve ever driven, but it needs to be better than some of the weeks I’ve put out this year.”
In case you need a reminder, Chastain has ticked off his fair share of competitors over the course of this summer as a result of on-track incidents.
Specifically, the entire roster at Joe Gibbs Racing.
There was Denny Hamlin at Gateway, Martin Truex Jr. at Dover Motor Speedway (then again last weekend at Daytona International Speedway), Kyle Busch at Richmond Raceway and Christopher Bell at Michigan International Speedway.
For better or worse, Chastain has made his presence known this year.
Busch coined the term “Chastained” to describe falling victim to his aggressive driving.
“I’ve taken this summer and not made it easier on myself,” Chastain said. “But I don’t see a single race the rest of the year that Trackhouse can’t go win.”
After their run-in at Gateway, Hamlin said he’d get back at Chastain when it mattered the most. Their follow-up incident at Pocono Raceway on a late restart, when Hamlin forced Chastain into the outside wall and causing a wreck, definitely didn’t fall into that category.
Playoff media day exchange:When @Rosschastain first entered the #NASCAR Cup Series did he ever imagine he'd live rent free in @dennyhamlin's head?
“No, because I was still paying to rent a house from @dalejr. So never thought anything would be free.”
— Daniel McFadin (@danielmcfadin) September 1, 2022
When asked at Daytona if Chastain would be given the benefit of the doubt over the next 10 races, Busch said “Absolutely not, no way, no chance.
“I don’t think people are paying him back yet, they’re waiting for the right time,” had added. “Denny got really tight off Turn 1 in Pocono. I know how tight these cars can get.”
Even with potential land mines awaiting him over the next 10 weeks, on Thursday Chastain was “selfishly and humanly” taking a moment to “enjoy” the “hoopla” of his first NASCAR Cup playoff media day.
“My name is on a board at Playoff Media Day,” Chastain said. “I’m not sorry that I’m going to enjoy it. Walking out of here and tomorrow morning, it’s back to regular preparation that I do no matter what. … I’m going to enjoy it.”
No matter what occurs between now and Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway, Chastain sees it all as a positive.
“Come back to me in 10 weeks and I’m going to be better for what has happened, no matter what happens,” Chastain said.