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Ross Chastain surprises himself in first Cup start during 800-mile weekend

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Ross Chastain didn’t realize where he finished in his NASCAR Cup debut until about 45 minutes after it was over.

The 24-year-old driver and watermelon farmer was driving a golf cart out of Dover International Speedway when he looked at the frontstretch scoring pylon.

The main portion of the pylon showed the top 15. At the bottom of it, a rotating section showed the rest of the field. Eventually, Chastain’s No. 15 showed up next to the 20th spot.

Chastain was floored.

“Holy cow! Are you kidding me?” Chastain thought. “I was confused after the race.”

For the previous 45 minutes, Chastain thought he finished 22nd in the AAA 400. As the laps wound down, Chastain’s No. 15 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports was running on a lap by itself, three laps off the lead.

After the multi-car crash unfolded during the overtime start, Chastain, who had forgotten about the overtime line rule, shut his engine off and began coasting around the 1-mile track.

“My expectations were to finish a single-digit number of laps down to the leader,” Chastain told NBC Sports Monday as he drove back to North Carolina from Delaware. “Nine laps or less was the goal and then anything after that, just see how the race goes and stay out of the way.”

When he coasted across the finish line, his result was the best for Premium Motorsports at a non-restrictor plate track in 128 Cup starts dating back to 2014. Michael Waltrip delivered the team’s first top 10 in this year’s Daytona 500.

“We were just excited to be competitive,” Chastain said. “I told them going in I struggle wrestling a car that’s loose around Dover and that was again the case with all three race cars this weekend. Every time we’d bring a race car up, I had a really hard time making good lap times.”

Chastain, a four-year veteran of the Xfinity Series, pulled off the triple-header of driving in all three national series races at Dover. He drove for three different teams, with himself being the only common factor on each team.

MORE: Ross Chastain: Watermelon farmer turned NASCAR driver

At the end of the weekend, the native of Alfa, Florida, had attempted to complete 800 miles in three days. Before Sunday, he had never ran in a 400-mile event.

“Never ran 400 miles or laps around anywhere in a single thing,” Chastain said. “Did a lot of prep leading up to it with my mom and making sure everything food wise the week leading up I was doing the right stuff. We eat a lot of barbecue, but she does way better than anybody in our family does. I’ve grown to know that I need to do that and I have been doing it a long time since we got into all this racing stuff. But really ramped it up the last couple of weeks and fed my stuff the right stuff basically.”

In Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race, he finished 15th, three laps down due to a bad battery.

In Saturday’s Xfinity race, Chastain drove his No. 4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports to 21st place, two laps down after losing a right-front tire.

In the midst of it all, Chastain had to prepare to drive a Cup car for the first time.

It made for an unusual Saturday for Chastain, who was used to sticking around Dover until Sunday when the Cup race started and then driving home with the race on the radio. When a JD Motorsports sponsor held a party in the track’s campgrounds Saturday night, Chastain abstained from any adult beverages on the eve of the biggest race of his career.

“I guess I was the only sober one there taking care of everybody,” Chastain said.

On the track, Chastain struggled to get used to an adjustable track bar and the car’s drive height.

“The hardest thing about it was the running back and forth with all the practices,” Chastain said. “Being with three different race teams and not working together except for with me, it was hard for me to communicate everything each car was doing with each crew chief at each team.”

The effort hit a snag in qualifying when Chastain put the No. 15 Chevrolet 36th on the grid out of 39 cars. Still trying to figure out how to navigate his new ride, Chastian worried about how the early portion of the race would unfold.

“I thought it was going to take 100 laps to get up to speed here,” Chastain said. “I might be two or three laps down by then. We got up to speed pretty quick and was competitive. Pretty much my adrenaline was going the entire time in a good way, in that it kept me going throughout the whole Cup race. I never got tired, never felt I was struggling in the car.”

With an average running spot of 26.8, Chastain was 25th by the halfway point. At one point Chastain got into an intense battle with Cole Whitt to be the first car a lap down, swapping spots multiple times as the leaders raced around them.

When he coasted across the finish line, Chastain was ahead of Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Chris Buescher and numerous Cup stars who had wrecked out of the event.

“I was able to pass, legitimately pass, some Cup cars and that just doesn’t happen,” Chastain said. “Starting that far back in the Cup Series, there’s no bad teams, no bad drivers either and we were competitive with them and racing them and I think it caught a lot of the other drivers off guard. Unfortunately, I pissed a few of them off that we were racing with them and they didn’t like it. I felt like I stood my ground.”

After the longest weekend of his NASCAR career, Chastain emerged from his first Cup race feeling “surprisingly well.”

“I was worried, for obvious reasons, I would be pretty worn out,” Chastain said. “I think I would have been, but all three races during the weekend we were fast, so that gets me excited.”

Chastain will continue with his Xfinity Series ride this weekend at Pocono. But after his impressive performance, Chastain says no plans are in the works just yet for another return to the Cup series.

“We need to get back and look at everything,” Chastain said. “There’s definitely a lot to think about. First things first, I just want to enjoy the fact I didn’t do anything too crazy.”

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Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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D.J. Kennington to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.

Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.

The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.

Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.

“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”

The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.

Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

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