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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

Ryan Blaney fastest in final Cup practice at New Hampshire

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Ryan Blaney was fastest in the Cup Series’ final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Blaney posted a top speed of 133.572 mph.

He was followed by Denny Hamlin (133.226 mph), Kyle Busch (132.739), Kevin Harvick (132.688) and Martin Truex Jr. (132.646).

Brad Keselowski (sixth) and Kurt Busch (14th) each recorded the most laps in the session with 61.

Blaney also had the best 10-lap average.

Click here for the speed chart.

Alex Bowman wrecked in Turns 1 and 2 in the middle of the session.

Bowman, who was already in a backup car after he had a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday, will now go to a second backup car. The No. 88 team will use Jimmie Johnson‘s backup car.

Matt DiBenedetto‘s left-rear tire shredded twice during the session.

“Not a lot of warning, I’ll tell you that,” DiBenedetto told NBCSN after the first tire problem. “I went down into (Turn) 1 and I was passing (Landon Cassill), as soon as we got down into the corner I don’t know if we ran over something or what but the left rear went down in a hurry.”

DiBenedetto, who qualified seventh for Sunday’s race, was able return to the track to make a lap right before the session ended.

 

Practice mayhem at New Hampshire as Alex Bowman crashes backup

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LOUDON, N.H. — Alex Bowman will be moving to his third Cup car of the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and this Camaro isn’t even his.

After suffering a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday that ruined his primary car, Bowman crashed his backup No. 88 Chevrolet in final practice Saturday on the 1.058-mile oval.

Hendrick team members immediately began scrambling to prepare the backup No. 48 Chevrolet of teammate Jimmie Johnson for Bowman (Hendrick’s fourth driver, William Byron, already was in a backup after crashing Saturday morning).

Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Jeff Andrews told NBCSN’s Dave Burns that the team elected to use Johnson’s car instead of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 because Johnson’s car had a traditional paint scheme that made the switchover more favorable to wrapping the car in the No. 88’s sponsor colors and logos.

“To rewrap the 48 vs. the 9, that’s a better option for us in terms of body tolerances and things like that,” Andrews said. “There’ll be only decals to rip off (Johnson’s car) due to the fact that the base coat is a paint and then we’ll apply the 88 wrap to that 48 chassis and body.

“Obviously we’ve got a great group of guys. Unfortunately, we’ve been put through a lot the last couple of days, but we’ll get through it, and we’ll line up and go racing tomorrow. It’s been a tough day, but we’ll get through it.”

Crew chief Greg Ives gathered all of Bowman’s team in the No. 88 hauler after the wreck.

“I think for Alex and the team, you just have to keep track of the big picture here, and we have to stay focused and not panic and go out tomorrow and do the best we can in the race,” Andrews said. “Certainly yesterday was not Alex’s fault. We had a mechanical failure there, and today we’re not really sure what happened there, but obviously at this point in time, we just need to get the best car underneath Alex and the race team.”

There are five drivers who will start from the rear in backup cars for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Bowman, Kyle Larson, Byron, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.

Newman and Hamlin crashed in practice Friday, and Byron and Larson had trouble in the first session Saturday morning.

Matt DiBenedetto also suffered two tire problems on his No. 95 Toyota (without sustaining major damage) during the final practice, which was paced by Ryan Blaney.

Tyler Reddick, girlfriend Alexa De Leon expecting first child

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Defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick has a new title: Father-to-be.

Reddick, 23, announced on Instagram Saturday that he and girlfriend Alexa De Leon are expecting their first child.

The Richard Childress Racing driver made the announcement while the Xfinity Series is competing in New Hampshire.

The birth of the child will make Reddick one of only two drivers in the top 10 in Xfinity points who have children. Justin Allgaier, who is 33, is the other.

 

Today’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick have combined to win 10 of the last 11 Xfinity Series races heading into today’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell won this race a year ago. Will the dominance of the Xfinity Series’ Big 3 continue or will a new winner emerge?

Here is all the info you need for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START:  The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. by Pastor Mark Warren. Ellen Kane will perform the National Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (211.6 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 3:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 94 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Christopher Bell beat Brad Keselowski and Ryan Preece to win his second of three consecutive Xfinity races. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.