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Xfinity Spotlight Q&A with Ross Chastain, watermelon farmer turned race car driver

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You may have heard Ross Chastain‘s name a few times last Saturday during Xfinity Series action at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The first was when his No. 4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports was the second-fastest car in the first round of qualifying. He later started a season-best 11th and finished 31st after an accident.

But you more than likely heard Chastain’s name a few hours later during a nearly 90-minute rain delay. That was when one of the 24-year-old’s fists connected with another person’s face for the first time in his life.

Long story short, run-ins between Chastain and Jeremy Clements on track and in the pits under caution resulted in Clements approaching Chastain from behind and grabbing him by the shoulders.

A surprised Chastain didn’t like the look he saw in Clements’ eyes.

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

“It was over before I knew it, man,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “It wasn’t even something I decided to do in my mind. This got real bad, real quick. The look in his face. … To see his face like that, he was red. Had the crazy-eye look. Just a bunch of yelling and carrying on. All of a sudden it was done. His crew was rushing me and I was backing up and my crew came running in to save my butt basically.”

The two drivers met in the NASCAR hauler after the race and shook hands. Chastain said they’ll be fine going forward. Though he says “I stand by what I did,” the incident still bothered him four days later.

“I hate it,” Chastain said. “Not how I want to represent everyone around me or myself. The people that sponsor me. I’m a role model for kids. I do a lot with elementary schools. That’s probably what I feel the worst about. People out there seeing it, or reading about it and just getting a glimpse of what they think I’m like and that sticking with them into the future even though that’s not who I am.”

Chastain, a native of Alva, Florida, grew up working on his family’s watermelon farm before his racing career started at 13 driving a FastTruck. After two years in the Camping World Truck Series, including one with Brad Keselowski Racing, Chastain is in his third year of full-time Xfinity competition.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What was your “Welcome to the Xfinity Series moment”?

Chastain: I hope it was about winning the first race I ever ran in the No. 4 car at Daytona in 2015. We were running (third) when we took the white flag and then we all got together and wound up in the grass. … That was definitely my first one and the one people still bring up. We were in a really good position because it ended up Ryan Reed, he was pushing me when I slid off the track, that was going into Turn 1. He came back around and won the dang thing. We were in the right spot and that’s really hard to do at those speedways, but we would have had a really good shot coming back to the checkered flag.

NBC Sports: You mentioned you went to the July Daytona race growing up. What do you remember about the first race you ever went to?

Chastain: It rained. Pretty much rained every July there in Daytona. We watched Jeff Gordon win a bunch. That was back when DEI was big, and they were winning races. I was a Gordon fan, so obviously I was pulling for the Pepsi car and Jeff. That’s what I looked forward to after we got done with watermelons. It was time to pack up the camper and go to Daytona.

NBC Sports: What’s day-to-day life like on a watermelon farm?

Chastain: It’s hot. We plant in early January, try to get our plants in the ground the first week of January. They’re harvesting now. They started a few weeks ago. This time of year is normally good if you got a good crop. Watermelons are leaving so that means money is coming in, so life’s good. We get paid once a year, so you’ve got to budget everything throughout the rest of the year. It’s good times right now out at the watermelon field. But the end of the summer into whatever winter is down in South Florida, all the money is going out, so you definitely feel the pains of that. We don’t actually live on the farm per se. The farm is about 15 minutes north of the house. But we’re there every day, early in the morning. You just work til dark is when you get off. This time of year is some late days.

NBC Sports: If you were competing in the Cup Series Bristol race, what would be your intro song?

Chastain: Oh man, it would have to be the “Watermelon Crawl” (by Tracy Byrd) the first time at least. That goes without saying. That would be the obvious choice right off the bat.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your face or name on merchandise?

Chastain: No, I don’t. I do all my own. I order it. I’ve never had anybody blindly order merchandise for me. I’m part of the artwork process, and unfortunately, the payment process.

NBC Sports: What do you do as part of the art process?

Chastain: You call the shirt company. I’ve got a group out of Kannapolis, North Carolina, that does all mine. It’s Omega Graphics. I just call over there and usually go sit down if I’m going to do something new and sit down with the art team. I start talking, and they start sketching and when I say ‘No, that’s not what I’m looking for,’ they ball it up and start again. We do it old school, scratching it out on a piece of paper and then they draw it up on a computer. … Probably the coolest thing we’ve done is a diecast of the No. 4 car, the full watermelon car. That’s the coolest piece of merchandise we’ve done through Lionel. They did 500 of them so that was a big step for me to take that and get those made. Lionel let me do it. They don’t let anybody make diecasts these days. They’re pretty stingy with their production time. It took a little while but we finally got it pulled off.

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What’s your least favorite part of race day?

Chastain: Probably getting ready to leave the hotel. When I wake up, I’m ready to be at the track. I just want to be there and be getting ready and going through the car and everything. A lot of race mornings are pretty early because of qualifying being ahead of the race. I get impatient. I’m in a hurry to get to the race track in the mornings, so it’s a quick shower, brush your teeth and let’s go. I don’t like riding with people to the track, because when I’m ready, I’m ready to go. Unfortunately, I’m a lot like my father and grandfather in those aspects that I said I would never be like.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Chastain: I had a ’76 Jeep pickup, three speed with a wood bed on the back. Just at the farm is what I drove around growing up. So that’s pretty much what I learned to drive a stick shift with, other than the tractors, but that’s a totally different mindset for a tractor versus a street vehicle truck.

NBC Sports: You went to college?

Chastain: I did a semester, plus two weeks. Then I got my first full-time ride in the Truck series. I had to put that on hold.

NBC Sports: Where did you go?

Chastain: FGCU down in South Florida. Florida Gulf Coast University.

NBC Sports: You mean Dunk City?

Chastain: Yeah man! That’s it.

NBC Sports: How did you pick that?

Chastain: We lived down there in Fort Meyers. I was able to live at home and go to the university and all that. … I started the fall semester 2011. I can’t claim it because I didn’t finish it. Which is how most NASCAR drivers are. They come in out of high school and they make a big deal about them going to college and racing. If you check back in with them within that year it’s usually the college has stopped, and they’re still racing. But they don’t broadcast that.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Results, point standings after Kansas Xfinity race

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final 30 laps to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway for his first Xfinity win.

Nemechek beat Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler, Shane Lee and Tyler Reddick.

Nemechek is the third first-time winner this season.

Hemric finished second after leading 128 laps. He is winless this year and has finished in the top three 11 times.

Click here for the results.

Points

After earning his best finish since the July race at Daytona, Elliott Sadler trails Daniel Hemric by nine points.

The top four – which will advance to the championship round – is rounded out by Tyler Reddick (-12) and Christopher Bell (-22).

The eight driver playoff field is completed by Matt Tifft (one point back from Bell), Justin Allgaier (five points from Bell), Cole Custer (23 points back from Bell) and Austin Cindric (43 points back from Bell).

Hemric’s car was found to be too low in post-race inspection, which is a L1 penalty. L1 penalties can include the loss of 10-40 points (in the past has been a 10 point penalty) and can include the suspension of crew chief and/or other team members and a fine between $10,000- $40,000.

Click here for the point standings.

 

John Hunter Nemechek earns first Xfinity Series win

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John Hunter Nemechek bounced back from two pit stop miscues in the last 50 laps to earn his first Xfinity Series win Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Nemechek, 21, led the final 30 laps. That was after he went from fifth to first on the final restart with 32 laps to go.

The son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek earned the win in his 15th start.

Nemechek had to pass Daniel Hemric, who finished second after leading 128 laps.

“It means a lot, especially at Kansas,” Nemechek told NBC. “(In) 2004, I forget how old I was. But dad swept the weekend in the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. It’s pretty special.”

The top five was completed by Elliott Sadler, Shane Lee and Tyler Reddick.

Nemechek pitted with Hemric with 50 laps to go and slid through his pit box. He left pit road three seconds behind Hemric.

When the final caution waved with 36 laps to go, Nemechek had to pit twice to tighten lug nuts.

“When that caution came I knew we had a chance,” Nemechek told NBC. “Luckily Daniel and I raced each other hard and clean all day. We got the track position and this thing was unreal to the end.”

When Nemechek took the checkered flag, he led Hemric by roughly five seconds. Hemric said he had a vibration over the last 15 laps.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: John Hunter Nemechek

MORE: Results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Elliott Sadler earned his best finish since the July Daytona race (second) … Shane Lee placed fourth for his career-best finish … Tyler Reddick earned his first top five of the playoffs … Ryan Sieg placed ninth for his second top 10 of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff contenders Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell were all involved in a nine-car wreck on Lap 1. Only Custer finished the race (26th) … Brandon Jones was eliminated via a one-car incident on the ensuing restart … After being involved in the Lap 1 crash, Spencer Gallagher was eliminated in one-car incident on Lap 26 … After Bell and Jones, Ryan Preece completed the Joe Gibbs Racing trifecta. He was involved in an incident on the last lap of Stage 2 when he was turned from contact with Joey Gase. Preece finished 21st.

NOTABLE: John Hunter Nemechek is the third driver to earn his first Xfinity win of the season (Ross Chastain, Spencer Gallagher).

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Daniel Hemric’s No. 21 Chevy was found to too low, which is a L1 penalty. L1 penalties can include the loss of 10-40 points (in the past it has been 10-point penalty) and suspension of crew chief and/or other team members and a fine between $10,000 – $40,000.

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 3. on NBCSN.

Video: Xfinity playoff contenders out after Lap 1 crash at Kansas

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Three of the eight playoff contenders were eliminated in a crash on the first lap of Saturday’s Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway, which opens the Round of 8.

Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric and Cole Custer were involved in a nine-car wreck as the field raced through Turn 2. Allgaier, Bell and Cindric were eliminated while Custer’s team was able to make repairs to his No. 00 Ford.

It began when Allgaier got loose and made contact with Bell.

“Just hate it for everybody that we took out on Lap 1. It’s uncalled for, ” Allgaier told NBC. “That one’s on me.”

Bell, who won this race last year, told NBC he “didn’t really see much of anything” as the wreck developed. “Just heartbroken. This is one of my favorite race tracks we go to. Especially after the run I had last year. This was the race I was really looking forward to when we started the year back in February.”

Allgaier earned his second DNF of the playoffs while Bell and Cindric earned their first.

“It was just a racing incident,” Cindric said. “You don’t really expect something that big to happen in front of you on the first lap. … It is unfortunate that it happened that early. Huge points implications on my end and the owners championship end. I have to put my head down the next couple weeks and figure it out.”

Non-playoff drivers Michael Annett, Ryan Truex, Spencer Gallagher and Chase Briscoe were also involved.

The race restarted on Lap 12. The field was immediately slowed by a one-car incident involving Brandon Jones on the backstretch.

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Kansas

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Kurt Busch led the way in the final practice session for Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver posted a top speed of 186.226 mph.

The top five was completed by Erik Jones (186.104 mph), Aric Almirola (185.842), Kyle Busch (185.471) and Paul Menard (185.446).

MORE: Aric Almirola fastest in Saturday’s early practice

There were no incidents in the session.

Joey Logano, who was 12th fastest, recorded the most laps with 67.

Kyle Busch had the best 10-lap average at 183.094 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.