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Chastain Aims to Grow with Everything Learned in 2022

What would he change about this year? 'Where do I start?'


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Upon climbing out of his car on Sunday at Phoenix, Ross Chastain asked the NBC Sports television broadcast who had the Trackhouse No. 1 team finishing second in the championship standings.

This was rhetorical, of course, but who amongst us would?

It’s been a wild ride for the definition journeyman racer in his first season driving for Justin Marks and Pitbull and what a remarkable tale he told along the way. It began with breakthrough triumphs at Austin and Talladega, crested with a summer-long rivalry with Denny Hamlin and what spotter Brett Griffin called the Ross Chastain Don’t Give a S--T Tour, and weaved all the way into the Hail Melon at Martinsville.

Chastain has had no shortage of feedback from this first season racing at the front of the field. So, after coming up just short of the NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday, is there anything he would immediately do different?

"Oh, we're going to be here a while," Chastain said. "My gosh."

But seriously though: Chastain had Hamlin offering criticism all summer, juxtaposed against Marks rebutting that he shouldn’t change a thing because the journey led to this point and nearly earned him a championship, so would he really change anything?

The answer is still yes.

"Just learning to race with these guys," Chastain said. "Like, our cars were so fast this year. They were faster than I've ever had in the Cup Series by far. I wanted to take every opportunity, every half of a car width and take it and take the air.

"And then, when I wasn't quite as good, I would block them and just keep my position, waiting on the next pit stop."

Chastain concedes there is more give and take than what he often showed this year and there is still a lot of learning about how to race for wins and championships -- something that can't be learned in the mid-pack, in the Xfinity Series or in start and parks.

"Yeah, I've ran for Premium (Motorsports) and then for Spire and for (Chip Ganassi Racing) and now Trackhouse; and as I've progressed through those teams and gotten closer to the front, it's a different way than how those guys operate.

"Learning to coexist with them is something that I wished I would have had a better understanding of or been more open-minded about. I knew it. People had told me, and drivers had come to me in the past and tried to tell me, but I was just -- when I have an opportunity, I'm going to take it always."

That’s not to say Chastain is suddenly going to become a pushover or lose his edge, but maybe he does give a s--t a little more in less pivotal moments throughout the summer.

"Not that I'm going to back down, but there's just ... it makes it a whole lot easier whenever I'm coexisting with these guys," Chastain said. "I wish I would have opened my mind to that a little earlier instead of waiting so long."

With all of that said, it would be easy for Chastain’s disappointment to bleed over into sadness given everything it has taken to get to this point, but he says he felt nothing but pride and accomplishment upon crossing the finish line.

"The emotions are surprisingly good," Chastain said. "Like I'm not sad. I'm not upset… I thought about this scenario, if I lost by a little bit, that I would be really upset and I’m not. Like I'm so proud and so happy to give our first shot at these playoffs and at racing in the Cup Series with Trackhouse, and we just ran second.

"Mr. Penske's group had us covered all day, and Joey (Logano) was the best car until the final run, then we had a real shot to race with him. But we didn't have the balance in our car and the grip in our car all day to be that way, so I'm proud of the effort."

Chastain has admitted to feeling fear at various points of his career, fear that he couldn’t run up front or fear that he wasn’t ready to make his Cup Series, and fear about this first Championship Race appearance.

So, from that standpoint, certainly a championship runner-up in his second season in a competitive Cup Series car, and first as a championship contender has to serve as validation, right?

"I'm confident in my ability, and I'm confident in my team," he said.

With that said, Chastain is also the first to tell you that he isn’t suddenly a finished product. All those things he has learned this year, and things he wishes he had done differently, now presents an opportunity for application.

Chastain says he is going to 'continue to evolve' and 'be a better race car driver' by studying those he's suddenly racing wheel-to-wheel with on a weekly basis.

"I feel like I'm on a never-ending hamster wheel to be the best version of myself, and that's not going to stop," Chastain said. "I hope that I never lose that drive because I wake up and I think every day about how I can drive a race car faster.

"That is my main priority every day of my life now, and it has been for the past probably seven or eight years."

Chastain remembers a time where just finding the funding to even be in a car was the biggest priority or growing crop at the farm to make a living. So the notion that trying to find the last advantage to become a champion is his biggest priority still blows his mind.

"I think of the progression of my mindset over the years and it's just to evolve into something better and that's where I still am," Chastain said. "I can't wait to get to work this offseason."