The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kicked off on Sunday, Sept. 5, at Darlington Raceway. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson battled for the win, but a driver ineligible for the championship stole the show. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ross Chastain fought for the lead late and ended the day in third place.
The driver of the No. 42 CGR Chevrolet Camaro started 23rd overall at Darlington Raceway, but he quickly began making his way through the pack with a very fast stock car. He finished ninth in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, and third in the final stage. He came close to taking second place from Larson during the waning laps, but he couldn’t fully complete the pass.
Speaking with NBC Sports after the performance, Chastain acknowledged that he could have performed better late in the race. He explained that he isn’t quite at the same level as some of the other drivers, especially at The Lady in Black.
“I can go fast. I just can’t quite race with them, and it starts with my restarts,” Chastain said. “I’ve got some work to do there, so I gave up the outside to take the bottom to be safe and then Kyle rolls around me. [I] was able to make one last charge there at him at the end, but yeah, I just need to clean up a few things.
“This McDonald’s car, I think it was the fastest car here tonight,” Chastain continued. “So it’s humbling to come with this CGR group these final 10 races here, a place where my career kind of took a totally different trajectory three years ago, and to have people like Clover and the Moose [Fraternity] and Advent Health on board supporting me and still letting me race three years later. It means the world. I’ve just got to clean up some more, though.”
Chastain Provided a Tease for the 2022 Cup Series Season
When Chastain finishes out the 2021 season, he will move over to a new NASCAR team. He will join Trackhouse Racing and drive the rebranded No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro. He will partner with Daniel Suarez to form a young tandem capable of contending for top-five finishes.
The outing on Sunday, Sept. 5, served as a tease for the 2022 Cup Series season. Chastain fought for the win against two of the sport’s best drivers while Suarez avoided the on-track incidents and turned in his 10th top-15 finish of the season.
“I am very happy with the selection of Ross as a teammate next year,” Suárez said in an August press release announcing the addition of Chastain. “He brings a lot to the table. I am looking forward to start working with him and making our two Trackhouse cars as fast as possible. I know we are going to win races.”
Chastain Has Plenty To Prove in the Remaining Races
While he may not be eligible to pursue the championship trophy, Chastain still has plenty to fight for during the remaining nine races. He can try to secure his first Cup Series win and deliver another trophy to Chip Ganassi before their partnership comes to an end.
Additionally, Chastain will have the opportunity to fight for points and move up in the standings. The first 16 spots already have names attached to them, but the back of the field remains fluid. There are several drivers fighting for the remaining spots inside of the top 20.
Moving his way up to 17th will not be a simple task. Chastain will have to overtake Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, and Austin Dillon. All three drivers have had strong runs during the 2021 season, but two continued this trend at Darlington. Buescher locked up ninth while Dillon took 10th, keeping them ahead of Chastain in the standings.
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