MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Ross Chastain had a big weight lifted off his shoulders this week with the announcement that he’ll drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series next year.

Just because Chastain doesn’t have to drive for his career, it doesn’t mean he won’t still be all-out behind the wheel as he pursues the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

Chastain is one of 12 drivers with a shot at the title entering this weekend’s playoff opener at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway, and he’s hoping to take the first step toward hoisting the big trophy at the end of the year on Saturday by finally putting his No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet in victory lane.

Normally one of the more-aggressive drivers in the field, Chastain said during Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day to not expect his driving style to change despite the fact that he’s already announced his plans for 2021.

“Honestly, I don’t know how to balance that, if I’m being truthful,” Chastain said in response to a question from SPEED SPORT about his mindset after the CGR announcement. “I hope that I never change how I drive because of having a job or not having a job. I feel like I can only drive at 100 percent. I can’t drive at 110 and I’m not going to drive at 95 percent. So I hope that never changes; I hope with age and with life that I don’t ever lose that. I think I’ll be honest with myself and if that ever happens, I’ll probably step back from racing at this level, because it takes 100 percent effort and focus to do this.

“You need to be able to balance stuff in life and enjoy life, but I’m narrowing in on this Xfinity Series run with the (No.) 42 car still out in front of us … and I’m staring down the barrel of a championship run with this (No.) 10 team that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my career.”

Chastain did contend for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series title in 2019 with Niece Motorsports, ultimately finishing second in points, but that championship push materialized midway through the year and wasn’t a concerted, full-time effort like his Kaulig effort this year.

“I was able to experience a lot last year with Niece Motorsports in our championship run, but it wasn’t building … we didn’t have the mentality of ‘we’re building for Phoenix’ all year long. It came late,” Chastain recalled. “That’s what made it so cool and so awesome, was the fact that we jumped in nine races in and went for a championship. But this year has been a thoughtful, planned-out approach over the course of the year to build a notebook and to be ready for Phoenix.

“That’s all that I could focus on right now, and next year will happen in due time.”

Ross Chastain has put Kaulig Racing in victory lane before, but it hasn’t happened yet this year. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

In a way, Chastain admitted that having the news of his 2021 plans out in the open this soon is a distraction in some ways, but the current “show up and race” climate in the NASCAR garage due to the COVID-19 pandemic helps to ease that in some ways.

“I’m not sure that I can truthfully say right now, or throughout the week, that it’s not a little bit of a distraction. There’s more eyeballs. There’s more talk in and around me, but I also know that this group at Kaulig Racing is 100 percent committed to these seven races … because this is what we’ve been building for,” Chastain noted. “So I put my focus into that and I do the best I can during the week to prepare mentally and physically for what’s happening now and what’s happening next will get here when it gets here. I want to just be the best I can be inside that (No.) 10 car right now, and that’s all I can do.

“The best part about being a race car driver is that when we put our helmets on and I latch that chin strap, it changes me. It changes my mentality. There’s nothing else in the world that matters,” Chastain continued. At that point, it’s only me, the steering wheel, the pedals, and looking as far as the hood pins – hopefully farther – to go win that race.

“Fortunately now, without practice and qualifying, that’s all we focus on.”

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