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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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Joey and Caitlin Gase welcome twin sons

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Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase and his wife Caitlin are now parents to twin boys

The babies were born on Wednesday. Their names are Jace and Carson.

More: Brad and Paige Keselowski welcome second daughter

Silly Season Scorecard: Front Row Motorsports adds John Hunter Nemechek

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Front Row Motorsports filled one of the last major vacancies in the NASCAR Cup Series when it announced Thursday John Hunter Nemechek will compete for the team full-time in the No. 38 Ford.

With the announcement also came the news the team is retracting to two cars after fielding three in 2019.

As a rookie, Nemechek will have Michael McDowell as a teammate.

Here’s how the rest of NASCAR’s Silly Season has played out so far.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 00: Quin Houff will race for Star Com Racing full-time. Announced Nov. 27.

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 15: Brennan Poole will make his Cup debut and will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time. Announced Dec 11.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves over from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek replaces the now retired David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports. Announced Dec. 12.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

 

YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

 

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Will field a part-time car in the No. 21, which will be shared by Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

 

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota Trucks in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

Niece Motorsports: Ty Majeski will drive the No. 45 truck full-time, taking the place of Ross Chastain. Announced Dec. 10.

DGR-Crosley: Has not made any driver announcements, but will switch from Toyota to Ford. Announced Dec. 11.

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Felix Sabates to end tenure as NASCAR owner

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Felix Sabates, who has been a NASCAR owner in some form since his team SABCO Racing began competing in the Cup Series in 1989, will retire from ownership in 2020, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Thursday.

The Associated Press first reported the news.

Sabates, 74, is leaving his role as a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, which he sold controlling interest of SABCO Racing to in 2001.

Together they have earned 43 total wins in NASCAR’s top two series, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

In addition to NASCAR, Sabates and Ganassi fielded entries in IMSA, where they won seven championships, 64 races, including a record eight Rolex 24 At Daytona races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

The Cuba-native has experienced health problems in recent years. In 2016, he suffered from an illness that put him in intensive care for 73 days and in a coma for 29 days.

“I look back to the 1980s when I first started in this sport, and I can tell you that the landscape has really changed,” Sabates said in a press release. “It’s been challenging at times, and tremendously rewarding watching the sport grow. When I started the NASCAR team, it was just a different time —a smaller regional sport. Then NASCAR grew and grew into a big business and continued to grow after my partnership with Chip. I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 30 years. I have friendships that will last a lifetime.

“I hope that what I have tried to give back to the sport — whether it be bringing NASCAR to Mexico or being instrumental in starting the sports car program with Chip — will be equal to what the sport has taught and given me. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an old man walking around at the track; this is my way of honoring that commitment I made to myself years ago. I wish Chip and his teams all the success in the world and will be keeping a close eye on the sport from afar and maybe even make an appearance from time to time.”

Said Ganassi: “Where do you even begin to describe Felix Sabates? He’s done so much for the sport of racing. I teamed up with him almost 20 years ago, and he’s been a great business partner and an even better friend. In that time, the only thing we’ve had an argument over was who was picking up the tab at dinner. Felix helped me develop as an owner as well as an individual. His track record in this sport certainly sets the bar high for anyone that follows. I’m proud to call him a friend and wish him all the best.”

 

 

Natalie Decker recovering from gallbladder surgery

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Natalie Decker, a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver, is recovering after undergoing surgery to have her gallbladder removed.

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Decker, who raced for DGR-Crosley in 2019, posted on Instagram Wednesday about what led to the surgery, including problems with her gallbladder the kept her from taking arthritis medication.

“Hi everyone now that I have had the surgery to remove my gallbladder I will share the whole story!” Decker said. “I have been not being able to eat much food and have been in so much pain every time I eat we went through lots of testing like upper endoscopy and gallbladder function test! They finally figured it out and my gallbladder wasn’t functioning right! I had to get my gallbladder removed before I could go back on my Arthritis medication. I’m so thankful everything went very well!”

Decker, 22, made 19 starts in 2019. Her best finish was 13th in the spring Las Vegas race.