Luckiest break in Ross Chastain’s career-best finish? Starting the race

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The secret to running four consecutive races (two of which were crashfests) at Daytona International Speedway without wrecking?

Ross Chastain flashed his toothy smile.

“I know, man,” he said Sunday night after taking 10th in the Daytona 500, his career-best finish in NASCAR’s premier series. “It’s luck for sure. Definitely luck!”

The part-time watermelon farmer from Alva, Florida, deserves the credit for keeping his race vehicles clean and racking up solid finishes on successive days in the Daytona 500 qualifier, trucks, Xfinity and Cup.

But Chastain also acknowledged there was some serious good fortune that kept him in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for Speedweeks and likely the rest of the season.

“I’d like to think that’s why I was in the car, right? That’s why Jay Robinson kept me in it,” Chastain said. “He had offers for other people to put in it, but he said he really thought if he kept me in it, he’d make his money back.

“You can ask him, he’s right behind you.”

OK, Jay Robinson, how many offers did you have from other drivers who would have been accompanied by more funding than Chastain?

“There were two with a lot of money,” Robinson said. “We came here with no sponsorship. I turned down a lot of offers and situations that would have required other drivers, and I’m committed to Ross.

“He’s committed to us. We don’t have contracts. We have a handshake agreement, but he’s good for it. I love working with Ross. I hope we can run a long time together. More than just this season.”

Chastain showed why he might be the driver who punches above his weight harder than any other in NASCAR’s national series. He finished third of nine cars that finished the truck race Friday and then led 23 laps in a 13th in the Xfinity race Saturday.

But Sunday might have been his most impressive performance. After falling two laps down, he rallied to give Robinson’s team only its second top 10 in 231 starts in the Cup Series.

“Man, I said it this morning, we’re going to use up all our luck this weekend, and I might come back here for five years and crash, right?” Chastain laughed. “You just don’t know, so you just take it when you can get it, and luckily had a plan in the truck race knowing they were going to crash. In the Xfinity race, we got lucky because we went in the race and nobody did crash — good thing we did race — and tonight went in from the beginning to just ride.

“We got two laps down at one point, but the car was fast enough to keep up. It was just a matter of timing our gaps and trying to stay in that second pack.”

After an uncertain offseason in which he lost a championship-caliber Xfinity ride with Chip Ganassi Racing because of a sponsor controversy, Chastain is soldiering on in NASCAR. He will split a full schedule in Xfinity with JD Motorsports and Kaulig Racing and is planning to run the full year in Cup with Premium (last year, he raced in every Cup race but Daytona and Sonoma for Robinson).

“(Robinson) committed to me last year that he’d run me,” Chastain said. “He stuck by it on this one. We’ll go out to Sonoma I guess and try to figure out my way around a road course. I’m not great at them, but he wants me in the car, so I want to be there for him.

“We’ll see how the season goes. If we get way behind on our budget and tear up a bunch of stuff and blow our bottom line and need to make it up, he’s got to do what he’s got to do. It’s a business. I understand that. I’ll use this to my advantage as much as I can.”