Ross Chastain taking in lessons during his career-best season

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — While winning in Cup is new to Ross Chastain, his aggressive driving style isn’t. 

Years ago in the Xfinity Series, Chastain told Justin Marks — a fellow driver who would go on to be Chastain’s boss at Trackhouse Racing — “that he was way too nice to race.” Chastain said that Marks “wasn’t mean enough and he wouldn’t do what he needed to do on track.”

Chastain’s mindset is that he brings his friends to the track instead of races with them. For those being introduced to Chastain through his first two career Cup wins and series-high seven top-five finishes this season, what he’s doing this year is what he’s done in the past when racing in the middle of the pack with lesser teams. 

The difference is that more people watch Chastain now.

They saw his block on Martin Truex Jr. for third on the final lap of Monday’s Cup race at Dover Motor Speedway. Truex wrecked. He then went to Chastain on pit road for a discussion.

Chastain admits he made a mistake in how he raced Truex — earlier in the event but not on the final lap.

“I’d say the mistake was 30 laps before (the finish), not just letting him go and hoping he got by Ricky (Stenhouse Jr., running second) and then I could get by Ricky, too,” Chastain said Friday at Darlington Raceway.

As for the block on the last lap?

“The last lap is the last lap,” Chastain said. “I’m going to race him as hard as I possibly can.” 

For some, the question is why would Chastain, who is assured a playoff spot with his two wins, go so hard for third place late in the race? That’s how he drives. Chastain fits this era where every point matters.

Will his actions at Dover — or the contact he made with AJ Allmendinger on the last lap to win at Circuit of the Americas to win — haunt him later in the season or the playoffs, remains to be seen. 

While Chastain will race hard, he’s sought to be calmer in the car. He’s cited the book “It Takes What it Takes” by Trevor Moawad, a sports psychologist who worked with professional athletes before his death in Sept. 2021, with providing a calming influence. 

Chastain said Friday that he is reading the final book Moawad wrote (“Getting to Neutral”) before his death at age 48.

“I am trying to do better,” Chastain said. “My focus, and the way I have been able to mentally move the needle for myself is getting to neutral and that’s a Trevor Moawad way of thinking.”

Chastain said the books have made an impact.

“That’s been the best way that I can go to sleep and wake up every day knowing that I am trying to better,” Chastain said. “Now, on track there’s been some instances where I am still making those mistakes that I made five years ago, but I am human. I’m going to make those mistakes. 

“So, yeah people are going to say what they are going to say. They’re going to write what they are going to write, right? … I know that I’m trying to do better and the people around me are trying to help me be better. That’s all I can really do.”

His focus this weekend is continuing his strong run this season at Darlington. But he will ease into things when Cup cars practice Saturday, taking a lesson he learned earlier this year in a crash in practice at Auto Club Speedway that forced his team to go to a backup car.

“This may sound a little odd, but I don’t think that there is a more nervous driver driving from Charlotte to Darlington today than me,” Chastain said Friday. “I am nervous to drive on the track (Saturday) in the car because I know how out of control they are. I know how quick they are to wreck.”

He’s learning. Each day provides a new lesson for the 29-year-old who is ascending in the Cup ranks.