Competing in all three series last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Ross Chastain was able to score three top-13 finishes, including a third-place finish in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series.
Set for triple duty at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Florida native shared his thoughts entering the weekend with POPULAR SPEED.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts as you look back at Daytona?
ROSS CHASTAIN: It was almost everything that I could ask for. We had three racecars that drove pretty well, honestly. The track was losing more grip so guys were starting to lose the handling, so there were small things that I changed and worked on, but you don’t know that into you get into the race and really draft at full speed.
I feel like I might have used up all of my luck there at Daytona for the next couple of years, because strategy wise, it worked out each race exactly how we needed it too.
PS: Out of the three races, what was your favorite and why?
ROSS: I don’t even know if I could pick. They each had different stuff going on. Don’t think I could pick one.
PS: Did the high-line and ride style of racing seen throughout speedweeks surprise you?
ROSS: It did surprise me. I mean, I wasn’t complaining when we were out front. I was like, ‘Man, this is the way to go.’ But once we were back in traffic, tried to make the bottom work and I’m not sure. I don’t understand why. I don’t know if anybody really does, but once we got to ripping around the top, there was no way the bottom was going to be it. I don’t know if maybe we found something, or if it was a fluke.
PS: Now as we head to Atlanta, what are your thoughts going into the weekend?
ROSS: Dry, think dry thoughts. Think sunny weather. No, I mean, the truck and XFINITY race, if I can run the doubleheader there on Saturday, I’m looking for good things out of the 45 truck and hope we’ve taken the right steps over the off-season, and the 4 car, it’s just business as usual; just go do our deal. We know what to do and how to do it. I will be working with a new crew chief than I have the last two years, so looking forward to that.
The Cup race with the new package – just first time we’ll truly see what the fruits of NASCAR’s labor are. But really, and fortunately, Atlanta will be the best show for the Cup cars all year. Unfortunately after Atlanta, the teams will start figuring stuff out as they’ll have something real to study instead of just testing and simulation, and they’ll start working on fine-tuning it. So I think we’ll see the best from the Cup Series that we’ll have all year, so that’s promising this weekend.
PS: What’s the biggest challenge of Atlanta?
ROSS: The asphalt, for sure. Like everybody talks about, it’s one of the older surfaces and the hot mix that they use there with the seams, you slide a lot with the cars handle. There’s some big swells in 3 and 4; there’s some abrupt in 1 and 2. So the corners are pretty different in my mind, and the car is going to handle a little different at each end and do different things. It takes a really good racecar there.
I mean, (Kevin) Harvick has won everything that you can win there so many times, but he knows what he’s looking for as I’ve watched his practices back and races over the years. It’s just not right; he knows what he’s looking for. That’s just something that comes with time and experience, and that’s what makes people great like he is. It looks great in the race, it looks like he’s lifting at the flagstand, but it’s because he’s got his car driving close to exactly how he wants.
But definitely the asphalt. It’s one of a kind there. These tracks whenever they build them, the hot mixes are different when they lay the asphalt due to the region of the country that they’re in. Atlanta just works out that it makes good racing.
PS: The off-season was filled with ups and downs for you. Was it easy to keep faith that everything would work out for you to have an opportunity this year?
ROSS: I knew all along there was a bigger plan for me, and it’s got to happen for a reason. I really realized that I wasn’t ready to walk away from all of this. I still feel like we have a lot to prove. So yeah, it was a couple of days to figure out and take in what happened, and just get back on track trying to do everything we could to be in the best position to be back on track and be competitive. NASCAR is a business. I went to work with everything I could control, and it worked out.
PS: With that in mind, what is it like being back home with JD Motorsports?
ROSS: It’s big. Even though I wasn’t racing with them in Daytona, I still spent a ton of time with them and the guys and Johnny (Davis) and Gary Keller. If you didn’t look on-track, you would’ve thought I was racing with them. Looking forward to that this weekend and getting that kicked off and just getting back into our deal, and putting together a string of say 15 really solid races and all of sudden, people are going to be like how are they doing what they’re doing and that’s the best satisfaction I can have.
Even though, I know the cars are good enough and they handle good enough with good speed, a lot of people don’t give them credit. The driver in my situation gets to take a lot of credit, but I try to turn it back around and put it back into the team since I can only do what the car will allow me. It’s not like I’m doing anything different than the other drivers; the 4 just handles that well and is that fast.
PS: Looking ahead on the season as a whole, what are your goals and expectations for this year?
ROSS: I think I’ll end up running the most National Series races again; that’s the plan, but a lot can change. But just be competitive – whatever that means; just get the most out of my racecars. So for Daytona, that was surviving and being there at the end, or getting to Lap 15 and wishing there was a caution because I had burned the left rear off of this thing. Just doing my job, plugging away and learning more about these racecars.
It’s not going to be the glitz and glamour that some of these guys will have, and that’s tough sometimes honestly for me; not the glitz and glamour, but the competition side is tough to watch guys go out and be successful, but I feel like we can be successful given even less great circumstances than someone has. It just means we have to work harder, and we have to put our head down, keep our feet moving, and we’re going to get to where we want to sponsorship-wise, and just the dollar amount raised on everything so the teams can do everything and reach their full potential.
PS: What track are you most looking forward to beyond Atlanta?
ROSS: The next one, honestly. I don’t have any that I don’t like; I enjoy all of them, even the ones that I haven’t ran well at in the past. I just work harder than even I thought I could to be better at it.
Just really, the way the NASCAR season goes, it’s such a grind, especially for the 4 car and 15 car. If I go and right side a car, that’s going to be three or four cars until I have it back in our rotation, and usually we’re turning cars around every other week to run. So just getting into that and the pressure that comes with everything. I really enjoy it, and feel like I thrive on it to be honest.
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