Ross Chastain has proven to be a decent road racer over his career and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the mix Sunday at Road America in Wisconsin.
But it takes a fine line of patience and aggression to battle for race wins and Chastain has been trying hard to find that balance in his breakout season. Chastain has picked up a pair of Cup victories this season, his first with Trackhouse Racing, but he's rattled some cages among his rivals along the way.
He's admittedly made a series of overaggressive on-track moves that have strained some relationships, but the 29-year-old Chastain is torn on how to proceed. What's he done so far has Chastain both qualified for NASCAR's playoffs and ranked second in the Cup standings.
“All I know is I’ve chased this dream and this goal of competing in the Cup Series for going on 11 years, 12 years now,” Chastain said. “When I race guys, I want it to be for the win and I want to race them for the win, and I need to not do [big moves] for fifth place. I need to have some better couth about it. I don’t know how to fix it, I just know that I want this so bad.
“And that doesn't mean that I just get to run into people, like, I get that. And trying to be better has been a challenge. I just want to pass people. I feel like I'm the aggressive guy, yeah, but I also get run into a lot. And that's fine, that's racing, I love it, and I get to do it at the front of a Cup race, which is just a dream come true.”
Chastain picked up his first career Cup win in March on the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, Texas, and he had to tussle with former teammate AJ Allmendinger in the closing laps to seal the win.
He won't be afraid to bump and bang again Sunday when NASCAR makes its second consecutive trip to the idyllic 14-turn track that stretches over 4 miles and is considered among the top permanent road courses in the world. Chastain was seventh at Road America last year and the discipline suits him: Chastain has five top-10 finishes in 14 career road course starts.
He’ll be trying to navigate his way into victory lane Sunday and become the first three-race winner this season — Chastain is one of five drivers with two wins — while also trying to find his proper footing in the garage. He’s not a superstar, is unmarried so doesn’t hang with the young families, and hasn’t been included in any of Denny Hamlin’s golfing outings or basketball tournaments.
“I don't live the same life as a lot of them; I don't have a bus here in the bus lot and that's the thing — if I wanted to hang out with them on the weekends, I probably should be over there in the bus lot,” Chastain said. "But that just seems like an egregious expense that I don't care to do. Should I probably give them a call and go out on the lake with them on Mondays? Probably. But I don't like the lake that much.
“So I am probably just going to go to the shop. I’ve got my crew. I’ve got my friends. It’s a pretty small circle. I’m a bit of a loner. I’ve got way more friends in the garage than I do on the [starting grid.
Chase Elliott won the pole at Road America and will lead the field to green Sunday as he attempts to defend his win on the Elkhart Lake, Wis., road course.
NASCAR’s most popular driver is coming off a win last weekend at Nashville and put himself in position to make it two straight Cup victories with a strong run qualifying run on the 4.048-mile road course. The Hendrick Motorsports driver edged Chase Briscoe by 0.038 seconds in Saturday qualifying.
That marks a major change from his starting position last year, when NASCAR’s premier series came to Road America for the first time since a Grand National event in 1956. Elliott started 34th last year but still found a way to win.
“Definitely a different vibe to the weekend,” Elliott said. “The car, I think, is going to need some different things to be successful tomorrow. I don’t think we’re as good as we need to be to be successful tomorrow, as we sit. I want to make sure we do our homework.”
Seven of Elliott’s 15 career victories have come on road courses.
Kyle Larson, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, qualified third. Tyler Reddick is fourth and Austin Cindric fifth.
Ty Gibbs overtook NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson on the final lap of overtime at Road America for his fourth Xfinity Series victory of the season.
The race featured a major wreck that impacted about a third of the 38-car field.
Larson, competing in an Xfinity Series event for the first time since 2018, was leading when Cole Custer’s brake failure resulted in a late caution flag that produced overtime.
The 19-year-old Gibbs, the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, chased Larson for much of the overtime session, passed him early in the final lap, and remained in front the rest of the way for his third career road-course win. Gibbs’ winning margin was 0.858 seconds.
“This is just awesome,” Gibbs said. “I can’t believe it. This is wonderful.”
Larson had decided to enter the Xfinity event to get more experience at Road America. He won the first two stages and was ahead for most of the race but couldn’t maintain the lead in that final lap.
“He did a really good job executing, and I didn’t,” Larson said.
Josh Berry finished third, Austin Hill fourth, and Brandon Jones fifth.
The race was in its 25th of 45 laps when contact between Noah Gragson and Sage Karam started a wreck that involved 13 cars.
Gragson and Karam already had made contact a couple of times before the right side of Gragson’s car hit the left side of Karm’s vehicle, setting off a chain of events that altered the field.