AVONDALE, Ariz. – In every championship battle, there’s one winner that gets all the headlines for the victory. The ones who come up short deal with the heartbreak of defeat.
As Joey Logano ended up hoisting the Bill France Trophy at Phoenix Raceway, Ross Chastain ended a wild 2022 season second in points, but far from upset. Indeed, he crossed the line third during Sunday’s 312-lap finale, but there was plenty for the Floridian to be proud of as he wrapped up his first season with Trackhouse Racing.
“The emotions are surprisingly good. Like I’m not sad. I’m not upset,” said Chastain. “I honestly thought when we started the playoffs that if we made it as I go through different scenarios, and I do think about what I’m going to think about ahead of time and think about what my thoughts are going to be and what I want them to be, and then I try to evaluate as I go.
“I thought if I — like this scenario, if I lost by a little bit, that I would be really upset, and I’m not. Like I’m so proud and so happy to give our first shot at these playoffs and at racing in the Cup Series with TrackHouse, and we just ran second.
“Mr. Penske’s group had us covered all day, and Joey was the best car until the final run, then we had a real shot to race with him. But we didn’t have the balance in our car and the grip in our car all day to be that way.
“So I’m proud of the effort. Nobody got upset, nobody got flustered, we just kept working on our car all day.”
Perhaps the most bizarre moment Chastain dealt with took place in the final stage of the race. On the Lap 200 restart, Chastain was behind Chase Elliott, who was attempting to go low and make his move toward the front. However, Chastain was fighting for the same real estate and contact was made. Elliott went low and spun into the inside wall.
Chastain continued on without harm while Elliott had to pit for repairs and was ultimately eliminated from the title fight. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion finished 28th, the worst out of the four title contenders. The incident marked only the second time Championship 4 contenders were involved in an accident.
Prior to Phoenix, the only occurrence similar to Elliott and Chastain was at Homestead in 2016, when Logano and Carl Edwards got together. It resulted in Edwards failing to finish, which still stands as the only title contender to DNF in the finale since the implementation of the Championship 4 in 2014.
“I felt like I got position on him, to the left side, the dogleg, and he turned left,” Chastain said on the incident with Elliott.
While some felt starting 25th would be a disadvantage for Chastain, there wasn’t any doubt from the No. 1 squad. Chastain didn’t ride back as he was able to pickpocket track position. The approach then shifted to making the balance of the car suitable to be able to fight with the leaders.
When it mattered most, his pit crew delivered and things began going their way. Although a championship wasn’t meant to be, he had as much gratification from the overall team effort. All thanks to their clutch teamwork that led to a top-three finish at Phoenix.
“On the final pit stop we got it right, fired off the best, together with a good pit stop, together with a good restart, with a good — however many laps we made to the end there, and that was the best we were,” said Chastain.
“That’s what makes me so happy is we can just keep fighting and no one is ever upset. Like we keep our world small. We all do our jobs. Everybody at TrackHouse just put forth their best effort throughout the season, and we ended as strong as I’ve ever seen us. Everybody stepped it up in the sport, in the playoffs here at the end, and we did the same thing. I’m proud of that.”
It’s the second time in his national touring career that Chastain finished second in the final standings. He came up shy of winning the Camping World Truck Series title in 2019. The agony of defeat left Chastain in tears that night in Homestead.
Fast forward to Phoenix in the Cup Series, it’s nothing but gratitude knowing what everyone accomplished all season. In his eyes, 2022 was simply the genesis of what’s yet to come in his Cup career.
“I was crying pulling in the pits off the track and just got it together kind of and then just lost my mind that night, but then had Xfinity and Cup, and it kind of took my mind off it,” Chastain explained.
“Right now, I just am proud of what we’ve done, and I feel so good. There were no — pulling in, there was just taking an audit on myself. There were no tears, no moment where I had to compose myself. It was just genuine good feeling from inside.
“I’m happy where I’m at. I’m happy with the group I have. I was excited to get out and see my family, see my mom, see my dad and brother and see the whole group we’ve got. This is just the beginning. If it all ends today, it’s fine. Really, if I can never race a car again, it’s OK. It was all worth it, and I’m genuinely happy.
“Believe me when I say it, it’s true, because there’s other times where it eats you up as a competitor. But for some reason, it’s not that I’m complacent in second, but I feel good.”
Chastain’s final numbers consist of two wins, 15 top-fives, 21 top-10s and an average finish of 13.3 — all career highs for the racer called “The Melon Man.”