Ross Chastain’s first NASCAR win ‘didn’t seem real’

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ross Chastain had a lot on his mind.

It was the third weekend in March and the 25-year-old driver was hustling from one job to another.

With helmet in hand, Chastain walked from the Xfinity Series garage to the Cup garage at Auto Club Speedway. There he would climb into Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for practice around the 2-mile oval.

He was “nervous.”

He had just left his Xfinity car and was preparing to go “200 and something MPH,” which he would be reminded of by a large digital screen displaying his speed every time he entered Turn 1.

“This is about to be real,” Chastain thought.

Chastain had no idea the next few minutes would change his life and career six months later.

Chastain wasn’t familiar with the man who called his name and approached.

“Hey, hi. How are you doing, sir?” Chastain told the stranger.

The man replied: “I’m Jeff Carpoff, I want to introduce myself.”

Carpoff is the co-founder and CEO of DC Solar, a primary sponsor of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity and Cup Series.

While Chastain was just meeting Carpoff, he was no stranger to DC Solar.

In addition to his full-time jobs of racing for JD Motorsports in Xfinity and Premium in Cup, Chastain has had an occasional side hustle over the last couple of years driving DC Solar’s motorhome to tracks, as he did in the spring at Martinsville.

“I was never a client of theirs, but I just wanted to be a part of their group, their family,” Chastain said. “Anytime they need help I’m the guy they call. … Then I can hang out with them, I really am friends with them.”

Carpoff had been keeping tabs on Chastain during his four years at JD Motorsports, a team that runs four cars but Chastain says has “enough people to run two.”

Before departing, Carpoff said, “I want you to know we’re going to try and do something for you. We don’t know what, we don’t know how. Don’t know if it’s going to work out this year, it might be down the road. But we like what you do and we really want you to be part of it. We want you to be part of our family.”

Even though he didn’t hear anything from Carpoff the next few months, the conversation remained with Chastain.

“You don’t forget a conversation like that,” he said. “With somebody like Jeff, you know he’s serious. But it went so long, what are the chances it happens this year?”

Chastain laid in bed Sunday morning having woken up before his alarm could have a say in the matter.

A realization quickly hit him.

“It was probably 20 seconds I would say before I said out loud, ‘We won. Oh my gosh. We won yesterday. That’s insane.’ I had forgot all about it,” Chastain said. “Honestly, I don’t believe that I won. It’s insane.”

The concept of being a NASCAR winner became even more surreal early Monday morning. He arrived home at 3 a.m. after flying back from Las Vegas. He promptly downloaded video of the DC Solar 300, in which he’d driven Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet. It was just his second start with the team.

“To watch it back, it didn’t seem real,” Chastain said. “I saw the car. I knew the moves I was making in the car, so to see it on TV, see the onboard (cameras) from other guys of how my car looked. I honestly (had to say), ‘That’s me. That’s me in there.’ It’s crazy.”

He watched himself lead 180 of 200 laps and fend off Justin Allgaier and the field through three restarts in the final 20 laps. The win came in his 215th NASCAR start.

“We kicked their butts,” Chastain said. “That’s really cool to say and I’m proud to say it. I’m proud to say that we went to Las Vegas, where the first time I ever went there … and start-and-parked. In 2012 (in the Camping World Truck Series race). We come back in 2018 and win the fall Xfinity race. That’s insane. That’s not supposed to happen.”

Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric, a fellow playoff driver, was not surprised by Chastain’s success.

“He did exactly what he was supposed to do getting in a race car of that caliber,” Hemric said Tuesday. “He’s prepped and drove stuff that wasn’t nowhere near that level. Him taking those chances to drive stuff that was lesser equipment is what gave him that opportunity. I promise you no one knows that better than he does. It’s rewarding for me, even though I was getting frustrated chasing him all race, it was so cool to see him make the most of that shot. It gives everybody hope, right?”

Chastain has one more race with Chip Ganassi Racing in Friday’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). After that, it’s back to Chastain’s usual job of racing for JD Motorsports and six races of scrapping and clawing for top-15 and top-10 finishes.

But for one afternoon, thanks to an almost passing conversation with Carpoff, Chastain was the man to beat.

“I’ve had so many (conversations like that),” Chastain said. “People genuinely are always trying to put together a program, whether it’s a third-party company or whatever. Everybody’s trying to hustle. That’s what I love about NASCAR. We all hustle. … I knew it was a chance then, but I never thought it would happen.”

Sam Bass, famed paint scheme and race program designer, dies

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Sam Bass, the artist known for designing many iconic NASCAR paint schemes and race programs, died Saturday.

His wife Denise confirmed Bass’ passing on Twitter. He was 57.

Bass, who designed Jeff Gordon’s striking “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme, had spent the last few years looking for a new kidney. That was a result of a sepsis infection that originated in a blister on his left foot in 2005 and led to a below-the-knee amputation in 2008. Bass also had Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 29.

Bass was inspired to become a NASCAR artist when he was 7 after attending his first race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

“I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors,” Bass told NBC Sports in 2017. “I was like, ‘How cool is this?’ I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

The first car Bass designed was Bobby Allison’s Miller High Life car in 1988. That car went on to win the Daytona 500.

He went on to design the first Cup schemes for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bass first designed a race program for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He designed programs for it and other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks through 2018.

Marcus Smith, the CEO and President of SMI, issued the following statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”

NASCAR issued the following statement.

“Though he may have never turned a lap or a wrench, few captured the essence of our sport through his work more than Sam Bass. He was a consistent presence in the NASCAR garage, and his ever-present smile and endearing personality welcomed all. Though we have lost a member of the NASCAR family, his legend will continue in his art – all of which illustrated the greatness of our sport and the talent of a true friend.”

Michael McDowell leads final Daytona 500 practice

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Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell was fastest in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

McDowell and his No. 34 Ford recorded nine laps and a top speed of 191.440 mph.

The top five was completed by Ty Dillon (191.432 mph), pole-sitter William Byron (191.339), Alex Bowman (191.278) and Daniel Hemric (190.921).

Only 20 cars made at least one lap in the session.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 16 and was 11th on the speed chart at 189.741 mph.

Of four drivers to make a 10-lap run, Bowman had the best average at 190.334 mph.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Jeffrey Earnhardt honors grandfather Dale Earnhardt with helmet design

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Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt is honoring the “GOAT” in his family with a helmet he’s debuting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The “GOAT” – or “Greatest of All-Time” – is his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

The helmet, which you can see below, bears an image of the seven-time Cup champion riding a horse while shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat.

Next to the image is the text, “Just a goat on his horse!”

Earnhardt will have the helmet today as he starts on the front row of the Xfinity Series season opener (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It is the first of nine Xfinity races he’ll start for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

MORE: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning in Xfinity

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

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off the 2019 season today with the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

The 38-car field will feature defending series champion Tyler Reddick, who seeks to become the first driver to defend his Xfinity championship since Ricky Stenhouse Jr., won in 2011 and repeated in 2012.

Here’s how today’s pre-race schedule looks:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Drew Patey, VIP Partner of the NASCAR Racing Experience, at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:49 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 2:10 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Sonny Gallman, Pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. The National Anthem will be at 2:31 p.m. and sung by Gina Marie Incandela.

DISTANCE: The race is 120 laps (300 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for cloudy skies with a high of 74 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won last year’s season-opening race. He started 11th and led 11 laps en route to the victory.

TO THE REAR: Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick will start from the rear after changing a tire with an air leak. Max Tullman also will start from the rear for a tire change. Jeremy Clements, unapproved adjustments.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.