Ross Chastain capped off a “perfect” race weekend, hitting all the right notes in the Music City to earn the winner’s guitar trophy in Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway – his first NASCAR Cup Series race victory of the season, a day after claiming his first career pole position.
But before hoisting his new guitar, the 30-year old Chastain had a watermelon to smash – his trademark victory celebration – a nod to his family’s multi-generation watermelon farm in rural Alva, Florida. And the sold-out Nashville crowd – home to his race team owner Justin Marks — roared with enthusiasm for the long smoke-filled victory burnout he did in front of the grandstands to his enthusiastic melon drop.
“This is incredible,” a grinning Chastain said. “This is why every little kid out there, anyone in the world, when you get criticized and you’re going to if you’re a competitor, they will try to tear you down and you’ll start believing it and you can’t do that. Go to your people. Trust in the process. Read your books and trust in the Big Man’s plan upstairs. And just keep getting up and going to work on it.
“A lot of self-reflection through all this, but I had a group that believed in me and they didn’t let me get down,” he said of his challenges in 2023.
Chastain certainly proved his resilience and his faith in the process. He led early Sunday and then led late – thanks to incredibly fast pit stops from his Trackhouse Racing team helping position him for the race lead on the final round of stops of the night.
It’s the first race win of 2023 for Chastain, who led the championship standings for seven weeks early in the year, and the first win of the year and first pole position ever for Trackhouse Racing.
Ultimately Chastain had to hold off Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin by 0.789s for the win – leading a race best 99 of the 300 laps, including the final 34.
Lapped traffic was a factor for Chastain to overcome all night. He lost his early race lead to Tyler Reddick after Noah Gragson raced Chastain hard trying not to be lapped. There is a history between Gragson and Chastain, who had a physical confrontation at Kansas Speedway in early May. Reddick went on to win Stage 1 after Chastain was unable to clear Gragson easily, but Reddick – who started the race alongside Chastain on the front row — spun out on pit road on a caution shortly thereafter and ultimately was not a factor for the win.
In the closing laps – with Truex hot on his bumper – Chastain had to navigate traffic again, and again cars held him up in an effort not to get lapped.
Fortunately for the No. 1, some of that traffic made things difficult for Truex as well and the “Melon Man” was able to pull away some in the final 20 laps.
It was a clean race – only two short extra caution flags beyond the two scheduled stage breaks. Reddick took his third stage win of the season in Stage 1 and Hamlin notched his fourth in Stage 2.
“I just think we had a third place car,” Hamlin said. “I thought the No. 19 (Truex) was a little better and obviously the No. 1 came on really strong there at the end.
“Just didn’t have quite a fast enough car to go for the win,” he added.
With his runner-up showing, Truex maintained the NASCAR Cup Series championship lead, now up by 18-points on both Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Chastain.
“Just needed to get the lead. Once we lost it, just too loose on the long runs, just could never get off the corner good to make a move,” Truex said, adding, “Just needed a little bit. Had a lot of speed. … Overall a good night.”
The 1.33-mile Nashville oval has been a good place for Chastain. He finished runner-up in 2021 and was fifth last year. And having won his first career pole position on Saturday, he went into Sunday’s race feeling optimistic.
“I trust in my people, my family back home, the agriculture industry and all the people Justin Marks has in place,” Chastain said, adding, “It’s absolutely incredible the fight that we have.”
Chase Elliott, the 2022 Nashville winner, finished fourth, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Byron. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Legacy Motor Club’s Erik Jones, Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch and Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger – who won the Nashville Xfinity Series race on Saturday – rounded out the top 10.
The NASCAR Cup Series next heads to downtown Chicago for the highly-anticipated Grant Park 200 Chicago Street Race next Sunday (5:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).