Ross Chastain gives his team ‘goosebumps’ with career-best second place finish

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LEBANON, Tennessee – Even when he’s finishing a career-best second at Nashville Superspeedway, Ross Chastain still faces the humbling moments of being a full-time rookie in the NASCAR Cup series.

For the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, finishing runner-up Sunday to world-beater Kyle Larson had him apologizing despite an inspired drive in the No. 42 Chevrolet team that gave his team “goosebumps.”

When the caution flew for the final time with 72 laps remaining, Chastain was third and the first of the lead-lap cars to pit – a call that had Chastain questioning crew chief Phil Surgen on the team radio when he restarted 17th with 68 laps remaining.

Ross Chastain has three top 10s in the past four Cup races, including a career-best second place Sunday (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports).

But the final 68 laps stayed green, allowing Chastain to improve 15 spots on fresher tires.

“It was humbling because I really believed that we had done that, and there would be more cautions,” Chastain said. “They know better than I do. They also knew that we couldn’t make it to the end. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

“We would have had to pit under green there, even if we stayed in the top four or five. They knew what they were doing. I’m sorry that I doubted them. Just heat of the moment in the car. It’s really hot. I’m sweaty and tired and man, we’re running third, we’re going to give this up. I need to just drive.”

Chastain has been driving exceptionally well lately. He has three top 10s in the past four races and has finished outside the top 15 only once in the past nine.

While he has yet to approach the greatness of Larson, who won six races as the No. 42 driver from 2014-19, a playoff berth suddenly seems within reach.

“I get out of the car, and they’re like, ‘Man, we haven’t had that in a long time,’” Chastain said. “I hadn’t, either. I was actually hoping it would just go green and no crazy restarts and take our second. That’s where we belonged, second place. It’s just going to build confidence in them. We’re doing the right things.”

In this case, it’s been the simple things.

“Still just building race cars, and they’re going faster,” Chastain said. “It’s getting to a point where I can hustle them. Just fast cars.

“I’m just trying to keep my confidence up. I got down pretty early in the west coast swing. I’ve realized I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. And I’m here for a reason.”

But Sunday’s result was a surprise for a driver, who said, “I don’t expect to run second yet. Still learning.”

With nine races remaining in the regular season, Chastain is ranked 20th and 50 points behind Chris Buescher for the final provisional playoff spot. But he demurred when asked whether he was in “must-win mode” to make the 10-race title run.

“I just want to compete,” Chastain said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m racing with my heroes, and I want to compete with them, and I want to beat them. So I just want to keep doing that.”

(Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)