Ross Chastain is another one of the many drivers coming into this season driving for a new team and with a great opportunity at hand.
There is a slight difference in Chastain’s story, however. He’s been around for quite some time, for starters, having made his NASCAR national series debut in the summer of 2011. And in 2021, Chastain will by no means be a rookie in the NASCAR Cup Series when he takes the reins of the No. 42 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing.
However, that doesn’t mean Chastain doesn’t view this year as his best shot. As a year that has to work out and be successful after scratching and clawing to prove he’s worthy of a chance in top-tier equipment.
“As a racer, yeah, I don’t want to go fail,” said Chastain. “So, there is no alternative. There is no Plan B. We have the farm and grow and sell watermelons, but yeah, as a racer, I want to succeed, and I want to do my job. So, yeah, this is it.”
Chastain has made 79 starts in the Cup Series, including running 34 of 36 races in 2018 and 35 of 36 in 2019. Last year, Chastain ran just eight races as he focused on a championship effort in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing.
Over the years, Chastain has driven everything in every series. Along the way, his story of working on the family watermelon farm during the week and racing on the weekends became well known, as did the fact that Chastain doesn’t have a lot of funding behind him, and he is determined to do more with less.
When Ganassi gave him a shot with a four-race Xfinity Series deal in 2018, Chastain turned it into a pole grab at Darlington and a race win in Las Vegas. In those four races, Chastain led 270 laps, and the garage took notice.
Moving into the Cup Series, Chastain doesn’t know what to expect with only having a practice before eight races. But he has a veteran and former series champion, Kurt Busch, as a teammate, and Chastain plans to follow Busch’s lead.
“I’ve bugged him with quite a few questions,” Chastain said.
Another thing Chastain plans to do is settle in and not ruffle any feathers. Now that Chastain has what he’s worked so hard for, he doesn’t feel the need to be so hard-hitting on the track.
“Yes, definitely blend in more,” he said. “I’m not going to let anybody pass; I’m not going to purposely run into anybody. I think that’s maybe been embellished a little bit over the years, and I haven’t done any work to diminish it. I’ve embraced it and enjoyed how people view me and how people talk about me, and we’ve used it internally with the race teams that I’ve driven for over the last two years to really motivate and find that extra little bit of speed in the race trucks and cars.
“I wouldn’t trade it. I would not trade anything. All those steps, all those mistakes are what got me here. But yes, definitely blend in a little better. I don’t want or need a line of drivers or crew chiefs or anybody to be lined up at the car after these races. This is the premier series, and I have to elevate to that level. I have a long way to go. This is going to be the biggest step of my career.”