Prior to the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 20, Hendrick Motorsports drivers had captured the top two spots in four straight races. However, the situation changed at the 1.33-mile concrete oval. Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Ross Chastain finished second and thrust himself into the playoff conversation with nine races remaining in the regular season.
The driver of the No. 42 is only in his first full-time NASCAR Cup Series season after previously making 79 starts in four seasons, but he outshined some veteran drivers during the 300-lap race at Nashville Superspeedway. Chastain started 19th after the morning’s qualifying session and steadily worked his way through the field, even rebounding from a speeding penalty at one point. He ultimately chased down Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron and took over second place before crossing the finish line.
“[Feeling] good. Really, really good,” Chastain told Heavy and other media members after the race. “To come to a 750 [horsepower] track, lifting, sliding, moving all over the race track trying to get forward drive, it feels really good.”
Chastain continued and explained that the whole No. 42 team can build off of his performance as the final regular-season races approach. “It’s positive. The guys got goosebumps there at the end driving through the field,” Chastain explained during the trackside session. “I get out of the car, and they’re like, ‘man, we haven’t had that in a long time. I hadn’t either.”
Chastain Has Three Strong Finishes in Four Weeks
Prior to the 2021 season, Chastain had started nearly 80 races for Premium Motorsports/Jay Robinson Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, and Spire Motorsports. He posted a best finish of 10th in the 2019 Daytona 500 but primarily finished outside of the top 20 each week.
Since joining Chip Ganassi Racing, however, Chastain has made major strides in his career. He started the season with a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 before posting another nine finishes inside the top 20. Once the Cup Series headed to Circuit of the Americas, Chastain appeared to turn a corner in his career. He captured a fourth-place finish in the rain-shortened race and locked up 36 points.
While Chastain struggled at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a 37th-place finish, he fought for wins once again at Sonoma Raceway and Nashville Superspeedway. Chastain posted a seventh-place finish in the California road course race on Sunday, June 6, after originally starting 29th. He then posted a career-best second-place finish at Nashville. Now he sits 20th in points, 50 back from the cutline.
The Upcoming Schedule Sets Chastain Up to Make Moves
While he remains outside of the cutoff line, the driver of the No. 42 will have an opportunity to make some moves in the remaining races. There are return trips to Atlanta Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway before the end of the regular season, as well as trips to road courses around the country.
If Chastain and his team keep performing at a consistent level, they will have an opportunity to finish the regular season above the playoff cut line. There is no guarantee that Chastain will achieve this goal, especially considering the level of competition that he will face each week. However, the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro is not stressing about “must-win” races.
“I just want to compete. That’s the biggest thing,” Chastain said, per Autoweek’s Matt Weaver. “I’m racing with my heroes. I want to compete with them, and I want to beat them. I just want to keep doing that.”
Chastain’s next opportunity to find success will be the first doubleheader of the season. The Cup Series will head to Pocono Raceway on Saturday, June 26, and Sunday, June 27. The drivers will take on the Tricky Triangle and fight for crucial playoff points.