NASCAR Cup Series
Playoff Drivers Stumble in Opening Race at Darlington
Sep 4, 2023
Lessons learned after the spring race at Darlington led Ross Chastain to take what his car would give him in Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500. As contenders fell by the wayside, Chastain kept digging and wound up with his first top-five finish in 10 races.
In the spring, Ross Chastain had a fast car at Darlington Raceway, yet he wound up crashing with Kyle Larson while battling for the lead. Chastain made a mistake and overstepped the boundaries of his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that day.
That race served as a wake-up call for Chastain, as his aggressive driving style came into question, which led to a stern talking to from Rick Hendrick. Right or wrong, whether you felt that Chastain deserved the criticism, or not, that race laid the foundation for what became a fifth-place finish in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Playoff opener at Darlington Raceway.
Chastain's No. 1 machine was not the fastest in Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 -- far from it, actually. Chastain's best lap in the race was a 30.179 sec. lap, which was the worst fast lap of any finisher inside the top-10. But after sliding through his pit stall on an early pit stop, Chastain buckled down, and took what his car would give him the rest of the race.
"For the pace we had at the beginning of the race, it would have been really easy to make mistakes," Chastain explained. "But we just live through those moments, and we continue to evolve throughout the race. Heck of a fight."
As the 30-year-old settled in, numerous others found trouble over the course of the 500-mile marathon in South Carolina. As contenders dropped off like flies, Chastain rose up the running order. And when the checkered flag flew, the racer had worked his way incredibly to a fifth-place finish.
It was a gritty performance, and it was Chastain's first top-five finish, and only his second top-10 finish since his victory at Nashville, 10 races ago. Chastain is just proud to rebound from the sluggish start to finish strong.
“It was a heck of a battle for the No. 1 Unishippers Chevy team," Chastain said. "We needed 1,000 miles to get all the way to the lead. We just weren’t fast. All weekend, I haven’t felt like our balance was super far off, but it just didn’t translate to speed. I’ll take a top-five finish, for sure, and ride home happy.”
With the solid finish on Sunday, Chastain now holds a 13-point advantage over the Playoff cutline, and he sits 10th in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings. Chastain says the finish stopped the bleeding of subpar finishes in recent weeks, and now his team gets a chance to build some momentum.
"Give this team another week to re-rack, and build another rocket ship, and we'll see if it lands in Kansas," Chastain stated with confidence.
While it was a rough 10-week stretch for Chastain and the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team as they approached the Playoffs, they showed the moxy needed to be a championship contender Sunday night at Darlington. The situation wasn't ideal. Some pieces of the puzzle didn't fit. Yet, somehow, they ended the night with a stellar finish.
When you compare it to the spring, where they had a car capable of winning, yet ended up with nothing to show for it, it's quite a difference.
Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, Racing America