DARLINGTON, S.C. – Ross Chastain will make his Southern 500 debut Sunday at Darlington Raceway but folks may still be talking about his run in Saturday’s Xfinity Series event when the green flag drops.
Brad Keselowski won the race, the Sport Clips VFW 200. But Chastain got the lion’s share of attention.
Chastain finished 25th and was brought into the media center. The last time someone finished that far back and got that much attention he was a she.
That’s what happens when you get a ride in a top-flight car, the No. 42 Chevrolet, with a top-flight team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
Kyle Larson has four wins in the same seat this year but, hey, he’s Kyle Larson so …
Let’s not bash team owner Johnny Davis – he’s had Chastain in his cars up until this weekend, before Ganassi and DC Solar came calling and asking if the driver might consider running a trio of races in the No. 42. Las Vegas and Richmond are next on his schedule with Ganassi.
With Davis this year he’s had a half-dozen top-10 finishes, including a fourth at Iowa and was 12th in points. Folks said drivers like Chastain just need a chance. Ganassi gave him that much.
All Chastain did Saturday was start on the pole for the first time in the series and win the first two stages of his career.
Outside of pure speed, he said, there didn’t seem to be a lot of difference in the No. 42 and the No. 4, his regular ride.
“After practice I walked by my guys on the No. 4 car … left them a note … that the 4 car drives just like the 42 car,” he said. “There’s just a speed difference.”
In the race, “I just had to take what the car would let me have,” he said. “Just trying to manage it and not pound the fence down until it was time to go.
“The clean air was king; whoever got out front was better. I got behind Kevin on that restart there, he beat me early and I couldn’t do anything with him. I just rode behind him. A caution came out, Brad pushed me on the restart, I was able to get back by (Harvick) and I was able to pull away from him.
“I was like ‘Wow! That is so cool! I’m going head-to-head with these guys; if I have the right situation, we’re racing with them.”
A lot of what was accomplished will be lost in the messiness of how it all ended – contact between Chastain and 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick coming out of Turn 2 left Chastain in the wall and Harvick bouncing off. Then more contact on the backstraight, both have a handful of steering wheel and then Harvick’s No. 98 is hooked and spun around and into the wall.
The day was over for Harvick, although not before he brought his car to pit road and parked it, briefly, in the No. 42 pit stall.
Harvick said he tried to stay as low as he could, “and he stayed on my door.
“That’s really an inexperienced racer and a really bad move,” Harvick told NBC.
“Probably the reason that he’ll never get to drive many of them again.”
Chastain hadn’t had time to digest the day, much less the incident, before he was surrounded by media afterward.
“I don’t think I did enough to get THIS opportunity,” he said. “I’ve said it time and time again, nobody deserves this. … More people win the lottery than get this opportunity.”
Of the contact, he said, “Once we hit the wall I was out of control.”
Next week the series heads to Indianapolis and he’ll be back with JD Motorsports and he’s perfectly fine with that.
“Obviously you don’t forget stuff you learn,” he said. “If I can remember it all – there was a lot to take in this weekend.”