Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CHARLOTTE, NC – Ross Chastain showed up for NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoff media day sporting a three-year-old firesuit—with a story behind it.
The firesuit had to be broken out of a glass case in the offices of CarShield in St. Peters, Mo., a vehicle service contract provider that has signed on as Chastain’s primary sponsor for the final seven races of the season.
“Broken out” means just that.
“This is a suit from 2016 that I wore back then,” Chastain said on Tuesday during Gander Trucks Playoff media day at FOX Studios. “The week of the Gateway race, I saw that they were going to be sponsoring the race with some other business stuff that they do. So they were already the presenting sponsor of the race.
“I sent some messages along the chain of command, through Spire Sports and Entertainment (the agency that represents Chastain). They reached out to them and had that relationship already.”
Chastain had worn the CarShield firesuit when the company had sponsored him three years ago.
“This suit was actually hanging up in a glass shadowbox in their office,” Chastain said. “They’re big hockey fans, and they’re headquartered right there in St. Louis. So one of their guys shattered the box with a hockey puck—shot the hockey puck through the glass—and pulled the suit out of the shadowbox for me to wear that Saturday night at Gateway.
“When I got the suit, I had to shake the glass out. There was still some in it.”
To complete the circle, Chastain won the race and qualified for the Truck Series Playoffs, a week after a disqualification for a ride-height violation discovered during post-race inspection deprived him of an apparent victory at Iowa Speedway.
“I don’t have a tape measure long enough to measure the low (at Iowa) and the high (at Gateway), Chastain said. “It was crazy. Yeah, we just dominated at Iowa and got caught on a technicality that we were wrong on. We just didn’t feel like the punishment fit the crime.
“So we were mad, and we went on to Gateway—same truck, same setup, same springs, same shocks, same everything—and it came up for tech, and we went on to win the race. It was just one of those things… yeah, it was definitely exactly what we wanted to happen.”
Extreme swings of fortune are nothing new to Chastain, who grew up on a watermelon farm and still plies that trade when he’s not racing.
Last year, Chastain dazzled the sport with his talent in a three-race run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Xfinity Series Chevrolet, winning a pole at Darlington, winning a race at Las Vegas and finishing second at Richmond. That performance led to the announcement of a full-time ride with Ganassi for 2019.
Sponsor issues, however, forced owner Chip Ganassi to shutter his Xfinity program, and Chastain started the 2019 season competing for Xfinity points in cars fielded by owners Johnny Davis and Matt Kaulig. At the same time, Chastain was running a full Gander Trucks schedule for Niece Motorsports and competing in all the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races that were feasible within his schedule.
Chastain won at Kansas Speedway in the seventh Truck Series race of the season and soon thereafter made the unprecedented move of declaring for the championship in Trucks. Only one problem: he would have to start from scratch in the middle of the season, with neither the points he would have earned before he declared for the series, nor the victory at Kansas counting toward the Playoffs.
In the second race after he started earning Truck Series points, Chastain won at Iowa and was disqualified.
“I said a lot of stuff after Iowa that we would come back and win,” Chastain said. “I said it on the broadcast right before the race at Gateway. I don’t know what in the world I was thinking, saying all that, but I was confident in our team.”
At Gateway, that confidence proved well-founded. And if the victory there was one of the high points of the year, Chastain’s roller coaster ride over the last two seasons has made him philosophical.
“At the end of the day, I think, when we hang our helmet up for the final time, you’ll look back and think of the ups and downs as minor little speed bumps,” Chastain said. “But when you’re in it, and you lose an opportunity or you get let go from a team, or you lose a race or whatever, it feels like the end of the world.
“We take this stuff so seriously, and each win only drives us to be more competitive… Truck Series guys aren’t living the glamorous lives that the guys in the upper series are, but we love the racing, and this is where we’re at right now. Whether were on our way up or on our way down or this is what we’re always going to do, we’re actually getting to live a pretty dang good life, and we’re pretty blessed.”
Chastain begins his quest for the series championship in Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Doubtless there will be ups and downs in the seven-race Playoffs.
But Chastain can only hope that by the time the series reaches the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he will be on an upswing.
BRETT MOFFITT’S MOTIVATION IN TITLE DEFENSE IS INTERNAL
Driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises, Brett Moffitt won last year’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.
Shortly thereafter, Moffitt lost his ride, to be replaced in the No. 16 Toyota by Austin Hill after Moffitt and Hattori failed to come to terms for another season.
So when Moffitt begins the defense of his title in Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), he’ll be driving the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet that has carried him to two victories and the top seeding on the Playoff grid this season.
Though Hill says he has felt the need to prove that he deserves to be in the championship ride this season, Moffitt said he doesn’t feel the need to find motivation from external sources.
“I don’t take any criticism from outside my own group, and I don’t put any pressure from other reasons than just myself wanting to win,” Moffitt said. “That’s all the motivation I need to win, and yeah, you want to better yourself year after year. That’s the goal.”
Last year, both Moffitt and Johnny Sauter (the seventh seed in this year’s Playoff) won six races each. This season, Moffitt has two wins and Sauter one.
“It seems like, instead of having five to six competitive trucks a week, we’ve got 10 to 12 now,” Moffitt said. “It’s changing the field completely, and it’s definitely making it harder to come by wins because you’re racing more people week-in and week-out.
“Tyler Ankrum (seeded No. 8 in the Playoffs) did a great job as a rookie. You look at this Playoff field, and most of us up here have a lot of experience. He’s coming in young (18 years old) and has proven that he can do it, and he’s put himself in position up front a lot lately, so he’s definitely not one to count out.”
On the other hand, Moffitt believes the lessons he learned last year will be invaluable.
“We’ve got some good tracks coming up,” Moffitt said, “and we’ve had a lot of speed lately with our GMS trucks, and I’ve now got the experience of how it unfolds going through the Playoffs. Last year was my first year doing that and knowing what to expect.
“It’s easier to look at the big picture now throughout the Playoffs, and I think that’ll help me get to Homestead.”