MIAMI — For NASCAR’s busiest driver, Ross Chastain, Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 is the proverbial cherry on top of a season that has been nothing short of astounding.
Chastain will have a shot at his first NASCAR championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway when he vies for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series crown in the No. 45 Chevrolet Silverado.
Driving for Niece Motorsports, Chastain has earned three wins, nine top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 22 Truck Series events.
However, his year is made that much more impressive when one considers he changed points declarations from the Xfinity Series to the Truck Series mid-year and still made the Truck Series playoffs.
To have added to that with a Championship 4 berth is just a bonus, Chastain told SPEED SPORT during Media Day festivities Thursday at the Miami Beach Edition Hotel.
“Certainly, I don’t know that I expected to get all the way here,” he admitted. “The most immediate thing, which was probably a little bit shortsighted on my part, was the Triple Truck Challenge races ahead of us at that point. We made that decision nine days from the first one at Texas, and really … when the Xfinity side started going the wrong direction, we had this opportunity. It was three more races than what we thought we’d run and we felt we could win some money for the team. We were short on our budget then and figured it was going to help.
“So I went and talked to Cody (Efaw), our general manager and then Al (Niece, owner) and said, ‘Do you want to make a push at this? Maybe it will work out, but at least we get more races together,’” Chastain recalled. “They were both 100 percent onboard. We set out to make the playoffs and obviously we know what happened with Iowa (with a disqualification), but I think that made us stronger, even though I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
“But the only thing we talked about (at the time) was making the playoffs. We knew that alone would be a big deal. (To be here with a title shot) is just awesome.”
The Alva, Fla., native was quick to note that for Niece — who broke into Truck Series ownership for the first time in 2017 — having a shot at the championship with his “little team that could” is monumental.
“It’s awesome for Al,” Chastain said of being able to chase a title in Miami. “People don’t even realize … we ran ninth last week and were back to 14th, I think, at one point and upwards of fourth at some point. But we got out, knew we made it to Homestead and Phil (Gould, crew chief) and our guys and girls all kind of shook hands and we were just ready to put it behind us and focus forward to right here.
“Well, then Al comes up with a big smile, hugs us all, thanks us all so much for getting us to Homestead, and that kind of brought it back into us, you know? That feeling of, ‘Hey, why stop now? Why don’t we go down there and do something?’ And that got us smiling again and high‑fiving,” he continued. “It really brought it all into perspective and that’s what it’s all about.
“This is a team that most people think maybe shouldn’t be here, but we’re here and we’re ready.”
Friday night’s Truck Series event will be the 76th NASCAR national series race of the year for Chastain, who has competed regularly in all three series — Cup, Xfinity and Trucks — throughout the year.
But there’s just something special about returning to Homestead, which has always been a unique venue in his home state and one that is close to Chastain’s heart as a Sunshine State native.
“Every year of my career, Homestead is what set up my next year. It secured funding for me,” Chastain noted. “The Florida Watermelon Ass’n, different watermelon farmers, different people in the industry … whatever it was, I always used this as the spark for the next year. It was all effort. I’ve taken a lot of sponsorship dollars and put them all on Homestead in Trucks and the Xfinity car in the past, to go out and perform. We did in both. That’s what ultimately got me the ride at JD Motorsports in the No. 4 car.
“I flew to Fort Myers yesterday, slept in my bed at home, got up this morning and drove the camper over so I could do all the things I normally do. Normally I drive to Fort Myers on Monday,” he added. “… I wanted to do the same thing I always do. I wanted to drive across State Road 80, down 27 and do the same thing. It was good. It was a nice three-and-a-half hour drive to clear my head.
“Now it’s business as usual.”
As he looks back on the last 14 months, Chastain sees the whirlwind that took place from the time he lost his full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing, but he also sees the realization of a goal that he had in place even at that point.
“Honestly, if you back up to November, the goal was to get to Homestead and win a championship,” Chastain reminded the media. “I just had the title down wrong for the series, I guess.”