Chastain savors dominant run, wins NASCAR season finale

Published 12:09 am Monday, November 6, 2023

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Ross Chastain stole some of Ryan Blaney’s thunder from NASCAR’s championship weekend.

He’s not making any apologies.

The 30-year-old won for Trackhouse Racing at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, becoming the first driver to win the season finale while not racing for the championship since Denny Hamlin in 2013, one year before this current elimination format began.

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Chastain didn’t give an inch throughout the race, frustrating Blaney, who won his first career NASCAR championship but couldn’t get past the No. 1 Chevrolet to win the race. There was little doubt Chastain had a fast car — he led a race-high 157 laps, including the final 31 — and pulled away as Blaney and Kyle Larson fought for the championship.

Blaney was so irritated that he even rammed into Chastain’s bumper at one point, making his displeasure clear.

“I know he was mad, and I don’t care,” Chastain said, grinning. “I do not care. I did not care then, I do not care now. I’m here to race him. I’m not going to wreck him.”

In the process of winning, Chastain provided a potential blueprint on how non-championship contenders should race when they’re not in title contention. Blaney, Larson, William Byron and Christopher Bell were the only drivers eligible to win the Cup championship on Sunday.

Chastain said he wasn’t going to do something dumb to put Blaney into the wall, but he also wasn’t going to move out of the way.

“I was not going to crash him, I was not going to use by front bumper, side fenders, anything,” Chastain said. “But dirty air? Different story. I’m going to keep the lead because that’s everything.”

It was Chastain’s second win this season. He also won at Nashville in June and was eliminated from the playoffs in the round of eight. He was runner-up in the standings last year to champion Joey Logano and raced for the title at Phoenix.

“We have the same desire to win every week,” crew chief Phil Surgen said. “The championship implication in that moment really didn’t matter to us. Our goal this weekend was to win the race. Running hard for the lead is what we got to do to win. That’s simply what it was.”

Chastain — an eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Florida — is probably best known for a breathtaking move at Martinsville last year, deliberating running into the wall and riding it around the track to shoot from 10th to fifth on the final lap and qualify for the championship finale.

He’s also known for an aggressive racing style that’s made at least a handful of enemies over the years.

But his fifth career win on Sunday showed he plans to be a force in the coming years. Chastain, Larson, Blaney, Byron and Bell are all young drivers who should be battling each other for titles over the next decade.

For a guy who was always a longshot to make NASCAR’s top circuit, it’s heady stuff. Chastain will also be sponsored next year by Busch Light, which chose Chastain to continue its NASCAR presence following Kevin Harvick’s retirement Sunday.

“To say my name next to guys like Kyle Larson, it’s hard for me to believe it,” Chastain said. “It’s hard for me to understand, comprehend.”