Columbia, MO (KMIZ)
When the NASCAR Cup Series came to the St Louis area for the first time, Ross Chastain emerged as one of the biggest storylines.
The driver of the No. 1 car for Trackhouse Racing wrecked Denny Hamlin and later made contact with Chase Elliot's left rear quarter panel, spinning his car around. The two drivers were infuriated with Chastain, and each tried to pay him back on multiple occasions later in the race. Despite their best efforts to get revenge, Chastain still scored a top-ten finish.
However, Chastain's history at World Wide Technology dates long before he put the bumper to Denny Hamlin.
"I've got a very unique history here," Chastain told ABC 17. "I came here for the first time in 2018 and start and parked."
Five years ago Chastain took an opportunity to drive in the NASCAR Truck Series race at WWT Raceway while Justin Marks (who is now his current boss at Trackhouse Racing) raced the Cup car that Chastain usually drove in Sonoma, California.
"I came out here with the team. They filled it up with gas, they put one set of tires on it and we qualified and started the race. Then when it ran out of gas, we put it in the garage because we had no pit crew," Chastain said.
"We had no plans to race. We had no sponsors, but we all made a little bit of money. That's part of the back of the pack, the back of the garage. It's part of life. I've done it a few times in my career. It's not something I'm super proud of."
Chastain did not stay in the back of the pack for long. A few weeks later, he won the Xfinity Series race at Vegas Motor Speedway for Chip Ganassi Racing. It was his first-ever NASCAR victory.
"Some of the bosses at CGR at the time told me that I was done start and parking. I'd never do it again. I said well, let's never say never," Chastain said.
"We come back again [to WWT Raceway] in 2019 with Niece Motorsports and win the race. On a late no tire, fuel only call. So back to the no tires, same as the start and park, and we were able to hang on and win. So I've start and parked, I've won, and now I've ran a Cup race at Gateway."
Lessons Learned From Last Year
Despite the eighth-place finish, Chastain would be the first to admit he made mistakes in last year's race at WWT.
"Definitely hit Denny too hard that first time when I tried to move him and wrecked him. That's not what I wanted to do, but I got to pay the penalty for that later in the year and ultimately at Pocono, losing that race."
Aside from the on-track drama, one moment from the race stood out in his mind.
"We were on the pace laps, and I see this flame go up and I could feel the heat, and I don't know if it was just my mind playing tricks on me because it seems kind of odd that I would feel it," Chastain said. "I swear I felt the heat from this explosion and it was a massive bomb they set off. Pyrotechnics, fireworks, and a big ol bomb."
Comfortable Making Other Drivers Uncomfortable
Since coming to Gateway last June, Chastain made it to the Championship round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after pulling off a miracle move to secure a fourth-place finish at the Round of 8 cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway by riding the wall to move up five spots on the last lap.
The move was nicknamed the "Hail Melon" because of Chastain's background as a watermelon farmer in Florida. NASCAR has since banned it.
The move instantly became an iconic moment in the sport. It was featured on television programs such as Sports Center and videos across social media. It even gained the attention of some Formula One drivers across the world.
"That was actually the second rule they made about us," Chastain said with a smile. "Earlier the year at Indianapolis, I had used an access road that is there to use anytime you want, and I just did it a little too goof, and we almost won the race. They ended up penalizing us after."
Chastain has also ruffled some feathers for his aggressive style of racing. Last month he again made headlines for punching Noah Gragson in Kansas after Gragson confronted him on pit road.
However, Chastian's aggressive style has led to much of his success. But it has also made him unpopular amongst his competitors. Many drivers have called him out in the media. Because of his reputation as a racer, he is often the first person people point the finger at when there is a wreck. Even if it isn't his fault.
Chastain does not enjoy being the villain.
"I'm a human being," Chastain explained. "I don't want people to hate me or dislike me. So that's naturally in my DNA, but they got me quoted saying recently and I didn't even know I said it this way, 'I'm comfortable making other drivers uncomfortable,' and that's the truth."
If they're a little uncomfortable, it's okay. I'm uncomfortable around some of them. I just don't go blurting it out to a media member right when I get a microphone."
Hungry For More
Chastain earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at the Circut of the Americas spring race in 2022 and followed that up with another win at Talladega Superspeedway.
This season he leads the points standings even though he is still searching for his first victory. He would love for it to come on an oval track.
"It's pretty wild we won on a superspeedway and a road course, Chastain said. "We're working just as hard as ever to get that first true traditional oval win. It's not lost on us that we haven't done that as a team yet."
Chastain joined Trackhouse last season, a team that Justin Marks and the musical artist Pitbull own. Chastain has always been confident in his abilities. Now that he is with Trackhouse, he feels that he is in a car that can win every race.
"Justin and Pitbull just lead by example of being positive and, you know, wanting to do more," Chastain said when asked about the secret to Trackhouses's early success.
"It just seems so wild that we can sit here and talk about the car I'm driving having a chance to win a cup race. It's still a bit surreal for me. But we prepare to win, and if the opportunity presents itself, we'll be there to grab it."