Categories
XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…… Ross Chastain

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.

Russell Labounty | NKP

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.

John Harrelson | NKP

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.

Russell Labounty | NKP

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.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

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.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Ross Chastain Survives Late Daytona 500 Carnage

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway concluded with carnage and chaos. From a race with huge packs throughout the event it became a survival strategy in the closing laps.

Many thought we were going to see what we saw on Saturday with the Xfinity Series race, cars running single file against the wall. Fortunately, that was not the case. The event consisted of two-wide and sometimes three-wide racing most of the day.

The first major accident happened with less than 20 laps to go. More than 15 cars were a part of that accident, but Ross Chastain was able to overcome the madness and bring home the No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet in 10th place.

“Just riding around” Chastain told reporters. “Jay Robinson working together, having a plan coming in that’s why he kept me in the car and didn’t put other people in I think because he knew we could work together and know when to go right at the end and try to get 10th that’s a big deal for us.”

Chastain pulled triple duty to start off the season. In all three races, he stayed out of trouble and his best finish came in Friday night’s NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck event where he placed in the third position.

“It’s luck for sure, definitely luck,” Chastain said. “I said it this morning, we’re going to use all our luck up this weekend and I might come back here for five years and crash. You just take it when you can get it and luckily, I had a plan in the Truck race knowing they were going to crash and, in the Xfinity race, we got lucky because we went and raced, and nobody did crash so good thing we did race.

“Tonight, we knew from the beginning to just ride and we got two laps down at one point. The car was fast enough to keep up it was just matter of timing our gaps and stay in that second pack.”

Luck played a role for most of the drivers that finished in the top-10. Some of the cars that had strong placements were already involved in prior accidents throughout the event. It shows that part of your driving skills at superspeedway tracks like Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway must be fast reflexes as drivers need to know how to avoid wrecks.

“A couple of them we got lucky to be able to stop in time,” Chastain said. “I slid my tires a couple of times trying to get slowed down but I feel like its right place at the right time. There is a bigger plan for all of this and a lot of this is out of our control as far as if you get caught up in it or not.”

After an offseason that left Chastain in wonders after losing his full-time Xfinity Series ride with Chip Ganassi Racing, Chastain started the 2019 season on the right track. As Speedweeks concludes, Chastain will put his focus on Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend, where he hopes to continue the momentum of a strong start to the season.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

TRACKING THE CHANGES: Gander Outdoor Truck Series Silly Season Part 2

From one season to the next, NASCAR is never short of changes as there are always drivers in new rides entering another year of NASCAR competition. The Truck Series is also seeing a change of their own, with the new identity as it will be known as the Gander Outdoor Truck Series, rather than the Camping World Truck Series. 

Earlier this month, POPULAR SPEED released the first edition of Tracking the Changes for the Truck Series Silly Season, detailing the moves for several different drivers across the grid. Since then, there’s been more announcements made. So let’s review where things stand as of January 28, 2019.

NKP

Although Ross Chastain lost his opportunity in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Chip Ganassi Racing, he will be behind the wheel in 2019. He will be sharing the Niece Motorsports entry with Reid Wilson, with Phil Gould calling the shots on the pit box.

Chastain became a hot topic for Silly Season after visiting victory lane in NASCAR’s second-tier division for Chip Ganassi Racing, and was initially announced to drive the team’s entry full-time in 2019. However, it was announced  that CGR will be shutting down their team due to a lack of funding. The news came following sponsor DC Solar’s offices were raided by the FBI. 

SEE ALSO: Tracking the Changes – XFINITY Series Edition

Meanwhile, Wilson made three starts in the truck series last season, scoring a best finish of 16th at Martinsville Speedway.

Russel LaBounty | NKP

Young’s Motorsports continues expanding their program, announcing that Tyler Dippel will be driving for them full-time in 2019. He placed second in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings last year, on top of making five truck series starts with a season-best 13th at Eldora Speedway.

Recall, that will give Young’s Motorsports three trucks full-time in 2019 as they already announced Spencer Boyd and Gus Dean as part of their team.

NIGEL KINRADE NKP

To nobody’s surprise, Todd Gilliland will return to Kyle Busch Motorsports to chase after the championship. Gilliland had a successful rookie campaign in 2018, scoring four top-five’s and 19 top-10’s. 

Gillliland will have a strong teammate in Harrison Burton, who takes over the No. 18 ride full-time that was driven by Noah Gragson, as Gragson moves up to the XFINITY Series with JR Motorsports. 

Barry Cantrell NKP

JJL Motorsports will continue their venture in the truck series, with Jesse Little set to run up to 15 races depending on sponsorship. The team will have a slightly new look, though, in the form of a new crew chief and new personnel. JR Norris has joined the team as crew chief of the team’s No. 97 Ford F150’s this year. Jamie Smith and Josh Frankos also join the team in a truck chief and Lead Mechanic role and will work side-by-side with Norris.

Little was known as the man with the small team that could after scoring six top-10’s in nine races last year. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Chastain Closing a Chapter Saturday in the Ford Ecoboost 300

HOMESTEAD, Fla – From racing on Saturday nights at his home track in Punta Gorda, Florida to winning in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2018, Ross Chastain sure made this year memorable. Recently, it was announced that Chastain would run full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing in their No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in 2019.

The 25-year-old hasn’t had it easy accomplishing what he did this year, but he’s proven that if you work hard you can achieve your dreams. Many competitors have different opinions about Chastain’s driving style, but that never distracted him. He continued to work hard and eventually grabbed an opportunity that led him to victory lane.

Seat time was a key figure for Chastain to learn how to become successfull, including racing with different teams in the top three levels in NASCAR.

“Yeah, it’s just a combination of everything,” Chastain told POPULAR SPEED. “Just racing as much as I can be the biggest thing I can do, and I’ll do it anytime and anywhere, I’ll race it. Getting laps helps me more than everything else.”

Although Chastain is not racing for a championship this weekend, he fulfilled goals that many do not even become close to. Beyond the XFINITY Series victory, he scored three top-fives with two different teams, and captured a pole. Prior to the 2018 season, Chastain only had one top-five finish with no pole awards to his credit.

Saturday, Chastain will make his last appearance with JD Motorsports in the Ford Ecoboost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Throughout his tenure there, he gained experience and had strong finishes that may have ultimately caught the attention of Chip Ganassi, among others.

The lessons gained extend to away from the track as Chastain has learned that racing is not the only thing in the world. As he has evolved as a driver, he has figured out that what happens at the race track stays at the track.

“Mainly it’s just, at least for me when stuff happens it’s not the end of the world,” Chastain told POPULAR SPEED. “There is going to be another race, you’re going to wake up the next day. Racing is not the end of the world and I was this way when I started as a racecar driver because we get so self-centered and so focused on our racing that one little thing goes wrong we wake up Monday morning and can’t get out of bed because we’re so passionate and sick to your stomach that you made a mistake.”

Chastain will be closing that chapter in his career, but will always look back and be thankful for the opportunities he had coming up in the ranks. As he walks out of Miami on Saturday after the Ford Ecoboost 300, he’ll go into the off-season knowing that all the challenging work he has put into his racing career is paying off.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MrBrandonRivero

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: GoBowling.com 250

The playoffs are officially here, as the NASCAR XFINITY Series kicked off their post-season action in style at Richmond Raceway on Friday night.

The 0.75-mile oval in Virginia has been called the perfect short track for a couple years, and that showed during the GoBowling.com 250 under the lights. From the drop of the green flag to the checkered, there were battles throughout the field with drivers able to battle side-by-side without touching each other. The aging of the surface also helped the excitement, with comers and goers over the course of the run as the tires began to fade away. 

Christopher Bell made the most of the short run at the end, working his way from third on the restart with just under 40 laps to go to take the lead, holding off a late challenge from Daniel Hemric on an ensuing restart to score the victory. The victory allows the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to lock himself automatically into the second round of the playoffs.

Through the first half of the season, it seemed Bell was putting himself in a position to contend for the championship. However, the late momentum for Justin Allgaier, and a string road courses which aren’t the rookie’s strong suit caused many to forget about the potential shown. Thankfully not having to worry about the Charlotte roval next weekend, the rest of the playoffs could play into Bell’s wheelhouse.

Bell wasn’t the only driver who led laps, though, as different contenders emerged throughout the night. Hemric won the first stage, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. victorious in the second. You also had Matt Tifft factoring himself into the equation – possibly set to play a bigger role if the flat tire hadn’t happened under the yellow flag, along with Ross Chastain trying to write another chapter in his Cinderella story.

Just imagine the scene if Earnhardt Jr. had won in his lone NASCAR start of the 2018 campaign. He led a bunch of laps and looked to have the car to beat, however the final run did not see the No. 88 Chevrolet fit his handling as he faded back to fourth. The smile in seeing him back behind the wheel was affectionate for everybody watching, and the promise of another race next year should allow the hype to continue.

The embrace post-race between him and Elliott Sadler post-race was also special as the best friends realized this would be their last time competing on the track together. The emotions on Sadler’s face was easily seen as he made his final start his home track, once again missing out on visiting victory lane. 

JR Motorsports wasn’t all smiles, though. Allgaier entered the playoffs with a ton of momentum following back-to-back wins, but contact while four-wide ended his night early. Thankfully, those points he collected from the five victories and stage wins will allow him to be seeded third, still 22 points above the cut-off line. His mulligan is used, though, so the next two weeks will need to see things go back the way they were previously. 

Chastain is set to return to his previous ride beginning next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway as he ends his three-race span driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He did what he wanted in the process – showcasing that he can get the job done if in the right equipment as evident with last week’s win and a runner-up this week. While worry was expressed post-race in seeing that potential recognized in the future due to funding, one can only hope that it works out and the Watermelon farmer gets the ride he deserves next season.

Lastly, is the No. 60 car cursed for Roush Fenway Racing? They’re currently at 11 DNF’s this season with a crash in all of the events except for two. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Ross Chastain Scores Career-Changing Victory at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Two weeks ago at Darlington, Ross Chastain showcased his potential in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, leading 90 laps before falling out of the race in a dust-up with veteran Kevin Harvick.

In Saturday’s DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his second trip in Ganassi’s car, Chastain closed the deal, surviving three restarts in the final 20 laps to earn his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in his 132nd start.

Chastain led 180 of 200 laps and swept the first two stages at the 1.5-mile track. To cement the victory, he held of five-time winner Justin Allgaier, who clinched the regular-season championship and accompanying 15-Playoff-point bonus after finishing fifth in Stage 2.

“Holy cow! I’m just a watermelon farmer from Florida-I’m not supposed to do that,” said Chastain, who carried one of his trademark watermelons to Victory Lane. “This shows you anything in your life is possible. I gave one away at Darlington, and this was awesome racing.

“I never thought this would happen. It’s incredible. Allgaier was awesome. He’s insane. I had to play possum there (on the restarts) and then changed it up. The car was just amazing. This was all we could ask for. We did it!”

In a car that showed its superiority on longer runs, Chastain was forced to win the race in short sprints. Vinnie Miller’s spin on Lap 175 caused the sixth caution and forced a restart on Lap 181. Trying to side-draft Allgaier right after the cars took off, Chastain brushed the side of Allgaier’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet and kept the lead.

On a Lap 188 restart, after Chase Briscoe’s brutal crash into the inside backstretch wall, Chastain moved up the track to block Allgaier’s run into Turn 1-and kept the lead.

On the final restart with five laps left, after a five-car pileup slowed the race for the eighth time, Chastain cleared Allgaier through Turns 1 and 2 but got a tap from the No. 7 car that propelled him forward down the backstretch.

Chastain pulled out to a 1.629-second lead at the finish.

Allgaier confessed to a moment of frustration after the side-to-side contact on Lap 181 but had cooled down by the time the final restart rolled around.

“I tried everything I could do to pass him as clean as I could,” Allgaier said. “That restart there, I thought we had a good shot at it. We had done a good job on the regular-season championship and had locked it up… what I was afraid of was blowing the left-rear tire. We had made contact right at the left rear tire, and that was my biggest fear.

“But Ross did a great job today and had by far the best car… At the end of the day, it’s cool to see him get the win. If we couldn’t do it, I’m glad to see him get the win.”

Cole Custer ran third and claimed a bonus of 10 Playoff points for finishing second in the regular season. Christopher Bell was fourth, followed by Elliott Sadler. Ryan Preece, Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex, Austin Cindric and Spencer Gallagher completed the top 10.

A bone-jarring wreck in Turn 4 interrupted Chastain’s dominance of the first two stages. Matt Tiift’s No. 2 Chevrolet turned sideways in the middle of the corner, right into the path of Ryan Reed’s No. 16 Ford. Reed slammed into the front-left of Tifft’s Chevy, and both cars rocketed into the outside wall.

Reed climbed from his car and sat down on the asphalt, leaning against the car door as he collected himself.

“I haven’t seen the replay, so I don’t know exactly what happened,” Reed said after exiting the infield care center. “Not sure if he lost a tire or what. That was a tough one. Knocked the wind out of me pretty bad. The right side is all banged up.

“I’m all good. Nothing broken or anything. I’ll just be sore tomorrow. Thankfully, everyone on our Ford Mustang worked really hard this weekend. I feel like we were getting it better and able to run the top 10 once we got the car a little better. It just got cut short, unfortunately.”

The only consolation for the early exit is that Tifft already had secured a position in the Playoffs, and Reed locked himself into the final berth despite falling out in 35th place.

Cindric also claimed a position in the Playoffs, which will feature the following 12 drivers, in order of seeding: Allgaier, Bell, Sadler, Custer, Tyler Reddick, Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Jones, Tifft, Truex, Cindric and Reed.

Categories
XFINITY

Chastain Well Deserving of Opportunity with Ganassi

Chip Ganassi Racing announced Thursday that Ross Chastain will drive three races (Darlington, Las Vegas, and Richmond) in the No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

The move creates an opportunity for the 25-year-old, who will now get to drive a car that has won four-times in 2018. However, it could be argued this chance is long overdue.

After his exit from Brad Keselowski Racing in 2013, Chastain jumped around seats before settling in with JD Motorsports in 2015, a team that had only had five top-10’s in the previous three seasons with a multitude of drivers.

In the three following seasons, Chastain scored six top-10’s and picked up the organization’s first top-five since 2011. The improvement has continued into this year, only placing outside the top-20 four times and an average finish of 16.6.

The impact he has made cannot be questioned, as all of this shows that he has been a crucial part in turning Johnny Davis’ teams from the underdog to a group more than capable of success.

Chastain also impressed during his time with Premium Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, most notably when he placed 20th in his debut at Dover in 2017. Since the team expanded his role this year, he has only finished 30th or worse six times in 22 starts. Again, notable considering the limited resources he has.

This move doesn’t just effect Chastain though; it affects the entire XFINITY Series, as the most important note of all this is where currently sits in the points standings.

The Florida-native currently holds the last playoff spot, with a 42-point advantage over the cutoff. Meaning, the driver, who has already done a lot with a little, is about to get in one of the best rides in the sport.

Breaking down his current schedule with CGR, it is two regular-season races and one playoff. Meaning, if Chastain can capitalize with getting playoff points and maybe even a win, this would create the opportunity to give him leverage that he may not have been able to get otherwise heading into the final seven races.

If he makes the playoffs though, the real story here would be the Richmond race. A solid night and or win could be the difference from Chastain being the feel-good story that gets eliminated in the first round, to somebody who advances further in the quest for a championship.

As former JD Motorsports’ teammate Ryan Preece has shown during his time with Joe Gibbs Racing, you give a driver a shot in quality equipment they take advantage. Chastain’s break could prove big, given the success he can attain.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

5 Drivers On The Rise In The XFINITY Series

The first five races are in the books for the XFINITY Series, and so far, it hasn’t been kind to its regulars.

Four of those events have been dominated and won by full-time Monster NASCAR Cup Series drivers. While Tyler Reddick was victorious at Daytona, they led 115 of 143 laps in that race.

Now, it seems the men of NASCAR’s second-tier have struggled in 2018. That’s not the case. Yes, they haven’t been winning races but, there are still regulars finding themselves with impressive starts to the year. Here are a few that have slipped under the radar.

Elliott Sadler

There are only two drivers in any of NASCAR’s top three series that have finished every race in the top-10. Johnny Sauter in the Camping World Truck Series, and Sadler in the XFINITY Series.

The 42-year-old veteran, coming off a season where he was close to his first championship, hasn’t suffered any setback from his disappointment last November. Despite starting in the top-10 once this year, he only finished worse than fifth once, Phoenix (ninth).

As the Dash 4 Cash program starts next month, expect Sadler to remain a contender for wins during the four-race stretch, as he has been on a weekly basis.

Tyler Reddick

Yes, Reddick won the season-opener at Daytona which may make it seem like he’s not an “underrated” type of driver, but his move to JR Motorsports has seen more success than just a win.

After all, taking over the No. 9 is taking over one of the best rides the series has. Look at the fanfare that surrounded Chase Elliott and William Byron after being in the seat (both of whom won the championship in their first year).

Despite having big shoes to fill, Reddick has had the almost perfect transition with the team. He’s second in points, has four top-10’s, and is locked in the playoffs, something no other regular can say right now.

Spencer Gallagher

While GMS Racing has proven to be a dominant force in trucks, the transition up the ladder hasn’t been a smooth one. Last year in their first full-time season, the team had only one top-10 and failed to make the playoffs.It seems 2018, on the other hand, has gotten off on a much better foot.

With Gallagher returning as the driver, GMS already has two top-10’s, and, has zero starts or finishes outside the top-15. Solid runs put together early in the season could prove to be vital later, as they look to be a part of the title hunt.

Kaz Grala

In a move not a lot of people expected during silly season, Grala left the truck series after one successful season with the eventual championship winning organization, GMS, to move a lesser-funded XFINITY Series team in JGL Racing.

To his credit, he’s made the move work. Sure, he may not be winning races as he did a season ago, but he is making the most of the opportunity given to him. He started off the year with a fourth-place finish at Daytona, and since captured three top-20 finishes, including a 12th at Phoenix and a 14th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

So far, Grala is showing that his past success wasn’t a fluke, and the talent is there, which is essential for a young driver like him to do to make a name for himself.

Ross Chastain

In the past two seasons, an underdog team has made the XFINITY Series’ playoffs. 2016, it was Ryan Sieg, in 2017, Jeremy Clements; could 2018 be Chastain and JD Motorsports?

It is possible with the way they have performed early, as Chastain has already equaled his 2017 total in top-10’s (two) and hasn’t finished outside the top-20. However, the most prominent sign of improvement came at Fontana.

The team qualified well, ran near the front during the entire race, and finished tenth. A day that isn’t typically associated with Chastain unless if at restrictor plate track.

If the No. 4 can continue to have days like this, they will be a playoff team.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

ASHLEY ASKS…..Ross Chastain

In the midst of a career-best NASCAR XFINITY Series season, Ross Chastain recently revealed that he will be back with JD Motorsports in 2018.

Chastain took some time to speak with Popular Speed’s Ashley McCubbin about the announcement, as well as this year.

POPULAR SPEED: How would you characterize your season so far?

ROSS CHASTAIN: Everything has been going along good. I’m at the shop now. We had a good weekend at Dover, and we definitely (have) had more speed this year than the previous two, so that’s what you hope for. We haven’t had some of the real great finishes just due to circumstances, but I’ll take faster cars all year instead of just a few lucky fortunate finishes. So it’s been good.

PS: What track are most looking forward to getting to?

RC: I really enjoy Homestead. It’s close to home, and just the way the track is. It’s worn out, you can run all over it – if it’s banked, you can run on it. So that’s really nice to be able to do that, and run against the wall. I’m still trying to learn that and master that; I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but getting there so probably, besides Dover, which we just got done there with a really solid weekend across the board.

PS: We’ve gone through now the first year with stage racing. What are your thoughts in how that has played out?

RC: I haven’t seen much difference. It’s taken a little bit of the strategy out to do something crazy, so you’re kind of locked in and makes being fast and staying on the lead lap and same strategy as the leaders even more important. Fortunately, we’ve been there most of the time, unless we’re a little off, but that just comes with the territory of trying to keep up. But I haven’t seen much changed.

PS: You recently announced that you will be back with JD Motorsports for 2018.

RC: I’m excited. It’s the earliest that I’ve announced, or definitely known. Me and Johnny (Davis) shake hands each year, and you know, we decide we want to do it. It just all made sense to keep building what we’ve built for three years now. I fit in well here with everybody down here with Johnny’s family, and the guys that we have working here, and they fit in with my family and what we stand for.

I’ve been other places where it was just a business, just a racecar, and that was the only reason you got together. Johnny and I get together for other reasons, too, personal time, just to spend time together, so it works out and we get to go racing as a byproduct. We get along because our families are very similar and how we were brought up. Obviously he was brought up in a different time, but it’s crazy how similar we are. Sometimes, it’s a little creepy to be honest, but it’s good as it makes it so we understand each other.

PS: Continuing to build on the success, where do you feel you and the team need to improve upon?

RC: Our mile and a half stuff has been solid, but to take that next step and run with the next group of cars is going to take speed. We have our cars driving well, we just can’t pace with them. We’re usually handling better and I’m on the gas, but it’s just not making lap time. So trying to get every little detail of these racecars worked out – all the aero stuff and maxing everything out to NASCAR’s rules and pushing the grey areas without getting into trouble. We don’t get fines here at JD Motorsports; we don’t cheat deliberately. That’s not the case with all the teams.

So it’s just a matter of us pushing the limits, but doing it in a way where we understand what we’re doing. You can’t just look at someone else’s car and say they’re doing this or that, and copy them. We need to come up with it on our own and quantify it in that we know what it’s going to do and science it out, and that makes it difficult when we’re not going to the wind tunnel or on the set-up post. We’re just putting racecars together and going racing, and our practice sessions are our test sessions. I’m on track on NASCAR sanctioned time, which is two hours of practice, couple rounds of qualifying, and then our 200 or 300 mile races.

That’s the cards we’re dealt, and we understand that down here. We do more with it than anybody else is or has done, inside or outside of this building. I’m definitely proud of where we have taken the team to the next level, and I feel we’re trying to take the next step. We’re never happy as racers.

Ross Chastain will hope to score his third top-five of 2017 in this Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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XFINITY

Cup Driver Dominance Hurts Excitement of XFINITY Series

The NASCAR XFINITY Series saw two of its most compelling races of the season at Iowa and Daytona. What contributed to the excitement? The success of series regulars.

William Byron won both events, picking up his first career series victories, and the top-10 was comprised of ten championship contenders at Iowa and nine at Daytona.

However, the narrative changed in Saturday’s running of the postponed Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

Six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers led the way, leading all the laps and claiming the top six finishing positions. Byron finished highest among the regulars in seventh in a race that demonstrated a clear distinction between the drivers of the different divisions.

While Cup Series competitors dominating the lower series has been commonplace for years, it’s harder to accept following two races of the regulars shining through and showcasing the series’ unique identity.

Iowa proved to be one of the wildest events of the year. An untimely late caution shook up the field and led to three drivers scoring their first top five’s of the season and many smaller teams earning an impressive finish.

Daytona’s unpredictability produced similar surprise contenders running well as Jeb Burton and Ross Chastain were among the competitors who finished inside the top-10.

Seeing different names at the front of the field was a refreshing change in a year where Cup drivers had won 11 of the 13 races before Byron’s pair of victories.

It also created the hunger to see more races play out similarly to highlight the up and coming drivers along with those competing full-time in the series.

While the importance of having names like the top-three finishers at Kentucky of Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Erik Jones in the field has been well documented as they attract sponsors and additional viewers, it’s overall more interesting to see the series regulars succeed.

Not all races play out like Kentucky but the events that do impact the series’ ability to build on its identity that Iowa and Daytona captured perfectly.

Although efforts are being made to limit the presence of Cup drivers in the series, the reason for doing so shouldn’t be just to keep them out of Victory Lane. It should be because seeing the stars of the series excel will ultimately produce a better on-track product.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.