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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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Ryan Blaney paces final Cup practice at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway with a lap of 128.554 mph.

He was followed by Kyle Larson (128.065 mph), Ryan Newman (127.784), Jamie McMurray (127.487) and Kyle Busch (127.258).

Chris Buescher, who will remain with JTG Daugherty after this season, was next on the speed chart with a lap of 127.098 mph.

Matt Kenseth had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 125.930. Busch was next at 125.601 mph.

Click here for practice report

In the session’s only incident, Timmy Hill spun but did not hit the wall.

Qualifying is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Chris Buescher signs deal to remain at JTG Daugherty

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Chris Buescher has signed a multi-year contact to remain at JTG Daugherty in the No. 37 Chevrolet, the team announced Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Really excited to be able to get everything worked out,” Buescher said. “We’ve been able to make a lot of progress this season.”

The team also announced that crew chief Trent Owens has signed an extension to remain with the team.

Buescher was loaned to the team before this season by Roush Fenway Racing because that organization had no room for him. With this new deal, Buescher will no longer be aligned with Roush Fenway Racing.

Roush also leased a charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car this season. That charter must be returned after this year. Car owner Tad Geschickter said the team had an agreement to purchase a charter.

“That paperwork is going to be submitted to NASCAR this week,” Geschickter said.

He also said that the team has “several years” on its agreement to remain aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Buescher won the 2015 Xfinity championship for Roush Fenway Racing and was loaned to Front Row Motorsports in 2016 to run in Cup. He won at Pocono as a rookie to earn a spot in last year’s playoffs. Buescher finished 16th in the points.

The 24-year-old Buescher is 25th in the points heading into Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Buescher finished a season-best sixth last week at Michigan International Speedway.

The signing is not unexpected. Buescher said last month at Indianapolis that he and the team were working on a new deal.

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Tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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After two road courses, the Xfinity Series goes short track racing tonight with the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his first Xfinity start of the year, Kyle Busch attempts to get his second win of the week as he tries to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR races in “Thunder Valley.”

Below is all the info you need ahead of tonight’s race on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Kenny Hawkins, WJHL-TV News Channel 11 anchor and sports director, will give the command to start engines at 7:38 p.m. Green flag is set for 7:43 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (159.9 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Qualifying is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jason Lovins will perform the Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Countdown to Green. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a 32 percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: In April, Erik Jones led the final 21 laps and won his second Bristol spring race. Last August, Austin Dillon won the Food City 300 in an overtime finish. The only laps he led were the final four.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m.

JGL Racing to honor Cale Yarborough with paint scheme at Darlington

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JGL Racing’s No. 28 will pay tribute to Cale Yarborough next month at Darlington Raceway as part of the track’s throwback weekend.

Dakoda Armstrong will pilot the car, which will mirror the paint scheme Yarborough had for the 1983 and ’84 seasons. Yarborough won the Daytona 500 both seasons. Yarborough became the first driver to run a qualifying lap at more than 200 mph at Daytona before crashing on the second lap. He came back to win the 500 in his backup car.

The NASCAR Hall of Famer won 83 races and three championships in his Cup career. Yarborough and Jimmie Johnson are tied for sixth on the career Cup victory list.

“Once again, we look forward to paying tribute to one of the icons of this sport,” said James Whitener, owner of JGL Racing, in a statement.  “We really look forward to this Darlington weekend every year and ways that we can make it bigger and bigger from our end.  Cale is one of the great champions in NASCAR history and to honor him at his home track of Darlington Raceway is pretty cool for me and everyone on this JGL Racing team.  We look forward to a fun-filled weekend in Darlington and a solid run in the No. 28 “Cale Yarborough Tribute” Toyota.”