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Ross Chastain may not have a spot locked down yet, but the Trackhouse Racing driver is in an enviable position as he heads off to Martinsville.

A minimum of two and perhaps three NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers will transfer into the Championship 4 on points. Chastain owns more points than anyone except Joey Logano, who locked into Phoenix by virtue of his win in Las Vegas.

Sunday afternoon in Virginia could be Chastain’s time in more ways than one.

Ross Chastain is closing in on the improbable

Ross Chastain walks onstage during driver intros for the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Ross Chastain walks onstage during driver intros for the NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2022. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

It isn’t out of the question for a driver in his fourth full-time year to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but the odds didn’t favor Ross Chastain at the start of the season. With no victories and just nine top-10 finishes in 115 starts, he entered 2022 without much of a resume. Further, he was the new guy at Trackhouse Racing, a second-year operation in NASCAR’s top series.

It didn’t take long for the Florida watermelon farmer to break through. Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas in the sixth race of the season and then again at Talladega a month later. That was enough to lock the driver of the No. 1 Chevy into the playoffs.

That was a feat in itself. But Trackhouse beat most teams to the punch in figuring out the Next Gen car, and Chastain didn’t give an inch when there was a checkered flag in sight. He began the playoffs as the third seed and survived 20th place at Darlington and a tough day on the Roval to keep on advancing.

Ross Chastain has an amusing reason for wanting to win at Martinsville

Back-to-back runner-up finishes to open the round of eight have placed Ross Chastain 19 points above the cut line entering Martinsville, the transfer race that sets the Championship 4 field the following weekend. If he stays out of trouble in Sunday’s Xfinity 500, Chastain will be in great shape. Finishing fifth there in early April surely is a confidence booster.

Not surprisingly, though, there’s a bit of anxiety about being one good effort away from the Championship 4.

“What it’s supposed to feel like?” he asked in an NBC Sports interview after the weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami. “I’ve never been here. For Trackhouse, we’re learning all this together; we’re experiencing this together. We’ve got a lot of knowledge in our shop and I’ll lean on a lot of teammates, both in the GM camp and inside our shop of how to approach it. But I’m a racer. We’re just going to race.”

Actually, Chastain admits to having a goal in mind that is both ambitious beyond just racing and practical, too. That’s because the Martinsville trophy is an exquisite grandfather clock, a tradition that goes back to 1964.

‘We’ll go qualify as best we can. And I’m late all the time, so a grandfather clock might do me a little good for the rest of my life.”

Ross Chastain

Sizing up the Martinsville field

Joey Logano is the only driver locked into the Cup Series Championship 4 because Kyle Larson, already eliminated from the playoffs, won Sunday at Homestead-Miami to free up another spot for someone to advance on points.

Ross Chastain will begin the Martinsville race 19 points above the cutline, followed by 2020 champ Chase Elliott (plus 11) and William Byron (plus 5). Denny Hamlin is the first driver below the cut line, five points behind Byron. Ryan Blaney is underwater by 18 points, Christopher Bell 33, and Chase Briscoe 44.

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