Long: Ross Chastain’s win ‘gives all the little guys hope’

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LAS VEGAS — Garrett Smithley walked out of Victory Lane with a smile on his face.

On a day when he wrecked in qualifying and finished 18th in a backup car, he couldn’t contain his excitement for Ross Chastain, typically his teammate at JD Motorsports but not on this day.

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was one of three races this season that Chastain will run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet — a car with more funding and resources than Chastain’s regular ride.

Chastain scored a dominating win.  

Garrett Smithley hugs Ross Chastain in Victory Lane after Chastain won the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo: Dustin Long

“It gives all the little guys hope,” Smithley said of Chastain’s victory.

As if it to make sure that Chastain’s win was real and the embrace they shared in Victory Lane was not imaginary, Smithley said it again.

“It gives all the little guys hope.”

Money is king in NASCAR and the owners with it are the kingmakers.

For those without money, everything is harder. There are fewer resources to develop new parts and make cars faster. Instead, such teams rely on less reliable parts, tape measures instead of laser measurements and hand-written notebooks instead of computer simulation programs. It’s a gap that rarely can be closed.

Facing such obstacles, teams are left only with hope. It’s why crew members get up at 5 a.m. to head to the shop and why they might not leave until midnight trying to repair a car from the last race and get it ready for the next one. Instead of flying to the upcoming race like many teams, it often means long drives through the night with little sleep before the garage opens the next morning and the race for speed resumes.

For such teams, the race for 25th can be as meaningful as the race for the lead to bigger teams.

Ryan Preece knows both worlds. He drove for JD Motorsports in 2016 and had one top-10 finish for the underfunded team.

Nobody noticed him.

So he took the sponsorship money he had and went to Joe Gibbs Racing to run two races (that later became four) instead of 33.

Ryan Preece celebrates his first career Xfinity race in 2017 at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Preece won in his second race with Gibbs. He’s won again with the team this year. Although he says he’s focused on the remaining races with Gibbs, his gamble will likely lead to a full-time ride next season in the sport. 

Preece isn’t alone in believing less is more. Alex Bowman lost his Cup ride before the 2016 season. With no rides left, he signed to run select races with JR Motorsports that year and also served as the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports’ simulator program. That put him in position to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Earnhardt had to sit out the second half of that season because of symptoms from a concussion. Bowman went on to take over the No. 88 when Earnhardt retired after last season and is in the Cup playoffs.

Those moves did not unnoticed.

Matt DiBenedetto, who also had to start and park early in his career and has run for a variety of small-budget teams, announced recently that he would leave his full-time Cup ride with Go Fas Racing after this season and bet on himself like Preece did.

“I paid a whole lot of attention to those guys and what they did,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports of Preece and Bowman. “They were a big driving force in me making this decision.”

Matt DiBenedetto hopes to be the next to follow in the success of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain to attain a more competitive ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiBenedetto said he decided to follow the model Preece tried after “seeing other guys get just barely bumped above me on those lists (for rides). That was the push I needed to make this bold and risky decision.”

For Chastain, the risk was low. Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, which sponsors the No. 42 Xfinity car, approached Chastain earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway as Chastain walked with helmet in hand from his Xfinity car to the Cup garage. The brief conversation led to further talk by Carpoff of putting Chastain in the No. 42 Xfinity Ganassi car at some point this season.

Chastain revealed Saturday that he’s not getting paid for these three races — he also ran the car at Darlington and makes his last start in it next week at Richmond.

“I get laughed at from inside the garage,” Chastain said of his no-money deal for these three races. “We literally bet on ourselves that we wouldn’t make any money now, but it would pay off.”

Chastain had to hold off Justin Allgaier, the regular-season champion, in a spirited duel that included contact and had Allgaier ranting on the radio at the time. Allgaier later attributed his anger to being in the moment.

But when Chastain pulled away from the field on the final restart and it became clear he would score his first career Xfinity win — in his 132nd series start — he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Ross Chastain in Victory Lane. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

He didn’t yell or scream on the radio. He put his head down, punched the steering wheel and stayed silent.

“They were all congratulating (me) on the radio,” Chastain said of the team. “I just wanted to listen and hear it.”

It was a sound he could not have imagined when he was starting and parking early in his career because there wasn’t the money to run a full race.

“That’s not the ideal way,” Chastain said. “I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s tough, and it’s very trying. A lot of phone calls (with family) late at night. We didn’t know it was going to get better, but they kept telling me that.”

Back then, he only had hope.

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Results, point standings after Xfinity regular-season finale

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Ross Chastain survived three restarts inside the final 20 laps to score his first Xfinity Series win Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Chastain led 180 of 200 laps on the way to winning the DC Solar 300.

He beat Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for results.

Points

Saturday’s race marked the regular-season finale and finalized the 12-driver playoff field.

Allgaier secured the regular-season title and 15 bonus playoff points.

The top five through 25 races is Allgaier, Custer (-44 points), Bell (-48), Sadler (-69) and Hemric (-78).

The remaining seven drivers who will compete in the playoffs are Brandon Jones, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Truex, Matt Tifft, Chastain, Austin Cindric and Ryan Reed.

Click here for the point standings.

‘I’m just a watermelon farmer’: Ross Chastain earns first Xfinity win

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Ross Chastain held off Justin Allgaier and the field in a six-lap shootout to score his first career Xfinity Series win Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Chastain, in just his second race with Chip Ganassi Racing, led 180 of 200 laps and swept every stage. He had to survive three restarts in the last 20 laps to secure the win, which came in his 132nd series start at the age of 25.

It is Chastain’s first overall NASCAR win in 215 starts across all three national series.

“Thank you all so much,” Chastain told his team over the radio. “I can’t thank you all ever in my whole life enough.”

The top five was completed by Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Elliott Sadler.

“Holy cow. I’m just a watermelon farmer from Florida,” Chastain told NBCSN on the start-finish line. “I’m not supposed to do that. Wow. … Man, that is a testament that anything in life is possible.”

In Victory Lane, Chastain kissed a watermelon in celebration.

Chastain usually competes for JD Motorsports. He made his CGR debut in the No. 42 two races ago at Darlington. In that race he started from the pole and led 90 laps before his chances at winning ended with a final stage incident with Kevin Harvick while battling for the lead.

Chastain has one more race scheduled with CGR next week at Richmond Raceway.

With his second-place finish, Allgaier secured the regular-season title and 15 bonus playoff points.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ross Chastain

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ross Chastain

MORE: Point standings, race results

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Allgaier earned his fifth runner-up finish of the year … Elliott Sadler tied his best finish (fifth) since the July Daytona race … Ryan Preece bounced back from two incidents and a speeding penalty to place sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Michael Annett was eliminated in a Lap 6 crash that also involved Preece … Ryan Reed and Matt Tifft were eliminated in a crash on Lap 65Chase Briscoe was involved in a hard wreck with 19 laps to go when contact from Tyler Reddick sent him sliding into the inside wall on the backstretch. It resulted in his third DNF of the year and the 10th for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 Ford … Daniel Hemric, Shane Lee and Tyler Reddick wrecked out with 11 laps to go.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “No matter what happens, if I go back to the farm tomorrow … which I’m going to do one day after racing’s over, if I had to back tomorrow I’ll have no regrets, obviously.” – Ross Chastain to NBCSN.

NOTABLE: Four of the last 11 first-time winners were in the No. 42 with crew chief Mike Shiplett.

WHAT’S NEXT: Playoff opener in the Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 21 on NBCSN

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

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The Xfinity regular season comes to an end today in the inaugural DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ryan Reed, Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric hold the final three playoff spots entering this race.

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, will give the command to start engines at 5:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 5:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 10:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 3:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 4:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Victoria La Mala will perform the anthem at 5:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 5 p.m. Coverage begins with Countdown to Green at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for sunny skies with a high of 100 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

QUALIFYING: Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece, Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex and Matt Tifft will start from the rear after failing to pass inspection in time to make a qualifying attempt.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won at this track in March. Christopher Bell was second and Justin Allgaier was third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Tyler Reddick paces final Xfinity practice at Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — Tyler Reddick led the final Xfinity Series final practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which will play host to the season finale Saturday.

Reddick turned 176.696 mph lap to pace the Friday afternoon session on the 1.5-mile oval, ahead of Ross Chastain, Cole Custer, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric.

Reddick told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast that he still wasn’t satisfied with his No. 9 Chevrolet for long green-flag stints.

“We’ll go to work overnight and come up with a game plan for tomorrow’s race, because we’re going to see some more of that,” the JR Motorsports driver said.

Click here for speeds from the final Xfinity practice Friday.

Matt Tifft led the first Xfinity practice Friday morning at Las Vegas, turning a 177.614-mph lap ahead of Sadler and points leader Justin Allgaier.

Click here for speeds from the first Xfinity practice at Las Vegas.