By Kelly Crandall (CONCORD, N.C.) – Following Saturday’s History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, @RossChastain now sits and waits for the phone to ring.
“As of Saturday, Memorial Day weekend, I’m racing in the Nationwide race and that’s pretty cool,” Chastain told Popular Speed in Charlotte. “Beyond that, I don’t have a clue.”
The Alva, FL native can look at his NASCAR schedule this year and unfortunately memorize it pretty quickly. It’s blank. Chastain doesn’t know what he’ll be doing the rest of the year after making his Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Charlotte. Car owner and friend @JamieDickRacing put him behind the wheel of the No. 55 for Viva Motorsports.
“Right now it’s a one-race deal with Jamie and the whole Viva group. It could turn into more and that’s what we’re hoping,” Chastain said. “I want to be in this garage a little more and this is a good team to do it with, but it’s not up to me or even up to Jamie or how we do on track. It’s that unfortunate word we don’t like to talk about, but it’s a money driven sport.”
From the moment the car unloaded at Charlotte it was a top-20 machine, which is where Chastain held it all afternoon after practicing and qualifying there. With a strong support from Watermelon.org, Florida Watermelon Association / Helena, all involved felt the time was right to take a chance and move to the next series. Those same partners have backed Chastain for quite some time and right now he just wants to get some laps while they continue to earn the exposure and advertising.
With his future in doubt, Chastain knows one thing: he doesn’t want to become a stagnant driver. Or one considered just a Truck Series competitor. He came into the year with what was supposed to be a five-race deal with Ricky Benton to run the No. 92. Except after Daytona and Martinsville, both sides agreed to mutually part ways as the team decided to go in a different direction.
But, Chastain said if they called him today, he would be open to talk to them again. “I’m not going to turn down a ride in NASCAR,” he said. “I’ll tell you that right now.”
Competing under the Brad Keselowski Racing banner in the Camping World Truck Series last season, Chastain ran exceptionally well in his 14 starts, finishing no worse than 20th. He nabbed two poles and four top-five finishes, two of which were runner up efforts at Iowa, where he led the most laps, and Phoenix.
But as the business goes, the funding to keep him in the seat just wasn’t there. Keselowski, even as good friend and neighbor (they both live on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Dirty Mo Acres”) had to stand behind the decision made in order to keep his shop doors open, which meant Chastain didn’t fit in. There are no hard feelings, as Chastain often turns to Keselowski as he did in Charlotte, for help when it comes to race weekend.
“Last year was the ideal situation. That was a dream situation for me and my career and the next step forward,” he said. “Coming into this year, we kind of got lost in a crack but now we’re back … The goal there (at BKR), you look at that and you hope it’s a feeder system to Penske. Penske is one of the top organizations in the sport. When I got the deal signed with Brad, the goal was to race with him at Penske and BKR, but throughout the season last year it was an eye opener for me as far as what this sport is. It’s a money driven sport and it’s unfortunate that it’s like that.”
For as close as he came last season to winning on more than one occasion, Chastain can’t tell you that it would have made a difference in providing him a job. Yet, he can tell you he feels he can compete with the best of the best, and there is a reason certain drivers get picked up by the powerhouse teams.
He hopes to be the next to get that right opportunity. Then, maybe he can stop looking back.
“I definitely still think about it. I still play the race at Iowa over and the race at Phoenix over, but I couldn’t do anything different. If I went back and tried any harder I would have wrecked in both of them,” he said. “That wouldn’t do me any good because I would have been the guy who can go fast but he wrecks at the end. To me, still to this day, a second place finish was better for the people that matter, the people I’m trying to impress.
“You see people wreck other people for the win and they get away with it, they get away with sliding and crashing and they go on to win, but it would be my luck that I’d end up not finishing the race. Those two are the ones that stick out obviously, the second place finishes. There are four other ones that I think about everyday, too.”
Chastain will forever be grateful to Keselowski for sticking his neck out for him, to put in a truck last season when it wasn’t always best. He just couldn’t do it for 2014 and now Chastain is on his own and searching to find his way.
“It doesn’t matter (what it is), I’m racing anything I can. It’s the same for everybody out there,” he said about his outlook. “I want to be able to represent the people that I need to represent the right way because there are some situations I don’t want to be a part of because of just how they do things.
“It’s a fine line you walk to make it in this sport and I don’t know the right line to walk and there are a thousand others in front of me. I’m just feeling my way along.”
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