NASCAR Cup Series
Ross Chastain 1-on-1: 'I'm not the same person I was last year'
NASCAR Cup Series

Ross Chastain 1-on-1: 'I'm not the same person I was last year'

Published Apr. 18, 2024 12:18 p.m. ET

Ross Chastain has emerged as one of NASCAR's up-and-coming stars over the past three seasons driving for Trackhouse Racing. 

He has brought the philosophy that the only friends a driver has at the track is the driver's team. He races aggressively — sometimes too aggressively — and has had his share of controversy.

For most of 2024, he has been out of the limelight, although he was involved in a last-lap wreck Sunday at Texas when battling for second and getting turned by William Byron. Whether it was a late block by Chastain or an overly aggressive move by Byron has been the subject of debate.

A couple of days prior to the race at Texas, Chastain talked to FOX Sports about his season, his April 2022 win at Talladega Superspeedway (site of the race this weekend) as well as his recent participation in the Bassmasters Classic Celebrity Pro-Am.


I was curious about your fishing excursion a couple of weeks ago. Are you a fisherman or anything? Or was that totally new when you were with the Bassmasters?

I'll be honest, growing up, dad had a boat. Dad's rule was no fishing poles in the boat. So casual fishing at the farm a little bit, maybe a lake here, a ditch there but nothing like that. No sonar. No proper trolling motor ever before. Logan Parks, who I went with, had to coach me a bit, to be honest.

Was it fun? What did you learn?

It was fun. The front-facing sonar changed the game. I never used that. So the trolling motor, it's scanning under the water. We were fishing in this shallow water with a bunch of trees under the water. So I only lost three lures maybe that I got caught and he had to break off. It was fun. Just being with somebody that does that professionally, ... I didn't completely birdnest the string and it was OK.

What's more difficult: Catching a fish or fuel mileage at Talladega and Daytona?

The fuel mileage is more difficult when I had an expert like Logan coaching me. But I have experts at Trackhouse that coach me as well. We work on it. We worked on it for years, even before I was driving the Trackhouse cars, I was doing fuel mileage stuff, and obviously with the new [Next Gen] car [debuted in 2022], when it was new and when it was on its way into production when we were about to race that — we were trying to figure out what the best way for it was going to be. So I've done many hours of DIL [driver-in-the-loop] simulation to practice that and see what it says. And then we've fact-checked it at the track. We've had a few [races] over the years that we weren't sure if we were going to make it and I ended up having half, two-thirds of an extra lap. So we continue to find that cadence of what is enough, what are our tools telling us? We just had it at Phoenix. Turns out I could have pushed a little harder, maybe finished fifth, but we saved a little extra and finished sixth. So we'll continue to evolve that.

Ross Chastain describes the key element to his April 2022 win at Talladega

What do you remember most about the win at Talladega besides the seas parting a little bit?

For sure. The pivotal moments were speeding on pit road. We left our pit stall after a stop and [Ricky] Stenhouse came out, and he had a really bright-colored car and I thought he was going to drive into my door. I kind of gassed up and went around him and just sped — it was just a mental error that I got spooked by a car. He left me plenty of room. And then they were lapping [Michael] McDowell and I — and I pulled up into the middle lane to create a disturbance so that I could get the draft so I could pass Michael and be the free pass [for the first car one lap down]. And that was ultimately — if I was behind him, we would have just blended in together and he'd have been the free-pass car. I wanted to be in front of him. I got the draft first and was able to get that and that set us up to be third taking the white flag. And then I had just committed to the bottom. They just came off Turn 4 and they started turning right [into the wall] and Austin Dillon and I just stayed on the bottom and he pushed me to the win.

It seems that this year going into Texas, you're finishing sixth to 14th. Is that where you feel like you guys are?

There's definitely been races, yeah. Yes, that's absolutely spot on somewhere in that range. But there's also been races— Las Vegas comes to mind — that we had a real shot to win. I sped on pit road. I had that string at the beginning of the year where I just couldn't go fast enough on the track, so I tried to go faster on pit road — and sometimes I was even trying to go slow there and just sped. I feel like at Vegas, we had a top-three car, could have raced with the 5 [of Kyle Larson] and the 45 [of Tyler Reddick]. And we still finished third — we were on two tires and hanging on. We weren't on offense. We were on defense. From there, sixth to 14th is very accurate for a lot of our raw pace for some of the races this year.

So do you feel good about this year so far? Or are you frustrated?

I feel good. If sixth to 14th is our just getting going and continuing to evolve with another package change that we have on short tracks and other OEMs [manufacturers] have different bodies and we're all learning, I'm good. Obviously, I want more. We are doing the work. We're doing different and what we feel like is more efficient things than we've done the last three years that I've been with this group. Phil Surgen, I've had him as my crew chief since 2021 with CGR [Chip Ganassi Racing] and the 42 car, we transitioned to Trackhouse [when it bought CGR] and the 1, kept most of the group together. I don't want to go to battle with anybody else. This is my group. We're going to be together. And we will continue to figure this out. We came out and won early races in other years, but I like where we're at. I feel the speed and the grip and the cars, if we just get the balance tuned in, we'll be right there.

We're at a Kubota [farm equipment store], but I wanted to ask, what's it like being the beer guy this year, having a as big of a company such as Anheuser-Busch? I am guessing they gave you a list of what you can drink, and what you can't?

We're at Kubota. And this was a conversation at the L.A. Clash in 2022, with Andrew Lukanich, one of our sales guys and he asked my dad and I what do we want and my dad said, "Tractors" and Kubota has been a great partner and just let me be me. And then you look at Busch Light and Anheuser-Busch, ... A-B and the Busch Light brand that they transitioned to [from Budweiser] on the NASCAR side several years ago with Kevin [Harvick], it's just so iconic. But for me personally, I drank Busch Light before they sponsored me. And I'm going to drink it long after they sponsor me and the No. 1 car, so they didn't have to tell me what to drink. I was already drinking it. My buddies and I, we've got pictures and texts in old text threads that have been brought back to life — which is scary sometimes to think about the texts live on this long — but I sent a picture of a Busch Light to Cody Efaw [of] Niece Motorsports in 2019 when the stuff happened at Iowa [when a truck win was taken away after failing tech] and to a group with [crew chief] Phil Gould and sent them a picture of the beer and I was like, "Let's go win again." And we went and won Gateway World Wide Technology [Raceway] the next week. Long before I was ever in Cup, when I was in the Truck Series, I was probably mid-20s. And we were at a bar back home in the offseason and we were drinking it and laughing and the Kevin Harvick banners are hanging on the wall. And they were asking me what would it be like if they sponsor me? And [I said] "I don't know what that would be awesome." And now in that bar, we were back there in December, and now my posters hanging up. It's so cool. 

Ross Chastain describes the full circle moment of being sponsored by Busch Light

You've kind of almost flown under the radar, no big brouhaha yet this year. I'm curious, do you have better relationships with drivers or just haven't been in really a position to maybe make anybody mad?

You said, "Yet." Are you trying to manifest it?

Well, I don't know.

No, no better relationships. I mean, I don't go out of my way to do anything. I'm not mean to anybody off the track. On the track, it's questionable sometimes. But, no, nothing different. I learn. I'm not the same person I was last year, the year before or even at Daytona this year. I'm continuing to learn this stuff and be the best NASCAR Cup Series driver I can be. Nothing changed drastically.

I want to say, this say Talladega will be your 197th Cup start — you're close to 200. You have now over 500 starts in the national series.

It started with one. It was one start — I had raced asphalt limited late models and crate late models in South Florida and we just wanted to do basically, what it would cost us to run the whole season, we just wanted to go do one NASCAR truck race and one turned to four more turned into a season with [team owner] Bobby Dotter and we just kept it going somehow. That's wild.

Are those numbers surreal to you?

My first Cup start was coming up for Dover in 2017. And I told the group that was putting it together that I didn't think I was ready, and I didn't want to do it. And they tried to reason with me, and I just got up and left and said, "I don't want to do it. I don't think I'm ready. I'm not gonna do it." And I slept on it that night and went back down to the shop the next day — I realized I better take this opportunity because it might not ever come again. I took those two races at Dover with [owner] Jay Robinson, Premium Motorsports and ended up running the bulk of the next two seasons for him. I guess this is now the start of Year 4 of a competitive Cup car. But what a lot of people don't remember is I had two almost full seasons in last — 29th was good, 27th was a win out of the 36 cars that would show up. If we could stay single-digit laps down, finished 29th or 27th, that was our goal. Attrition [in my] first race out, I finished 20th. It was a super-mega win. It didn't happen ever again except the Daytona 500. But, yeah, I've got a lot of starts in the back, watching Cup races from the back of the pack. And that's not lost on me.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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