Skip to main content

The surprise runner-up for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship and points standings leader for nearly half of the 2023 season dropped into a slump for much of the past month, but the next track on the schedule could be just what he needs to rebound, and potentially win his first race of the season.

Ross Chastain was the breakout star of the 2022 season. Trackhouse Racing bought out Chip Ganassi Racing, where Chastain had been employed as the driver of the No. 42 car, after the 2021 season. Trackhouse kept Chastain in the fold and gave him the seat to the No. 1 car for an organization that team owner Justin Marks had founded only one year earlier with Daniel Suarez in the No. 99 car.

After a rough start, Ross Chastain excelled in his first year with Trackhouse Racing

Ross Chastain finished dead last in his first race with the organization after a crash 62 laps into the season-opening Daytona 500. He then crashed in practice a week later at Auto Club Speedway and finished two laps down in 29th in a backup car.

His fortunes quickly changed afterward, however. Chastain finished inside the top three each of the next four weeks, which culminated with his first career Cup Series victory at the Circuit of the Americas.

He won again a month later at Talladega Superspeedway and spent much of the rest of the season inside the top five in the points standings. He also finished fourth or better in each of the final four playoff races, including his daring “Hail Melon” move on the final lap at Martinsville Speedway, to finish second in the championship standings behind Joey Logano.

Chastain also made quite a few enemies on the track along the way. His trademark aggressive style of racing led to run-ins with several drivers, including Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, and Martin Truex Jr.

Chastain’s 2023 season started much the same in every category. He has yet to win through the first 16 races of the year, but he led the points standings for seven of the first 14 weeks with five top-five finishes, and he angered more competitors with his driving style.

Hamlin was frustrated enough with Chastain that he intentionally walled the No. 1 car on the final restart in March at Phoenix Raceway and ended up with a penalty from NASCAR after he revealed his intentions the next day on a podcast.

Chastain also had run-ins this season at Richmond Raceway with Christopher Bell, Talladega Superspeedway with Noah Gragson, Dover Motor Speedway with Kyle Larson, and Kansas Speedway again with Gragson, who tried to fight Chastain on pit road after the race. Chastain landed the only punch of the fight.

Chastain and Larson also tussled for a second time on a late restart on May 14 at Darlington Raceway. The resulting wreck took both out of contention and led Larson’s team owner Rick Hendrick to issue a rebuke on Chastain’s aggressive driving.

Marks then said he talked with Chastain to address the frustration he has caused throughout the series. Rather coincidence or not, Chastain finished 22nd each of the next two races and dropped from the points lead to fifth in the standings before a 10th-place run on June 11 at Sonoma Raceway got him back into a tie for third with Ryan Blaney.

Chastain has superb career stats at Nashville Superspeedway

The series now heads to Nashville Superspeedway after the lone off week of the season, and Sunday’s race could feature yet another battle between Larson and Chastain, as they are the only two drivers to finish inside the top five in both Nashville races. 

Related Christopher Bell Is Quietly Putting Together Another Great Season and Doesn’t Have to Face the Problem He Did a Year Ago

Christopher Bell Is Quietly Putting Together Another Great Season and Doesn’t Have to Face the Problem He Did a Year Ago

Larson leads all Cup Series drivers with a 2.5 average finish in the two previous races at the 1.33-mile concrete track after he won the inaugural event in 2021 and finished fourth a year ago. Chastain is second on that list, with an average finish of 3.5. He finished runner-up to Larson in 2021 and fifth in 2022.

Nashville, which is also home to some Trackhouse business operations, arrives at a key point in the season for Chastain. He is only 24 points behind Truex for the points lead, but he also has only five playoff points and no wins on the season. The current season is unlikely to have at least 16 different regular-season winners, so Chastain isn’t in danger of missing the playoffs, but he will face a steep climb to advance deep into the postseason if he does not have at least five extra playoff points that a win provides.

He is also on a winless streak that now extends for more than a year. He has not celebrated in Victory Lane in the Cup Series since the Talladega victory in the 10th race of the 2022 campaign.

Ross Chastain has competed in 42 points-paying races since that event, but Nashville offers perhaps his best opportunity to end any talk of the growing winless streak and his past incidents. It could be the spot where he turns back into one of the championship favorites.