NASCAR: The ultimate dark horse of the Xfinity Series

While he may fly under the radar, Ross Chastain has the results to prove why he is the dark horse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

As the only driver in the top seven of the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings with no race or stage wins, Ross Chastain can easily be overlooked when it comes to title contenders.

Most eyes fall on Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe, the top two in points who have combined to win six of the last eight races.

Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier are always in the picture, currently both in the top three in laps led and stage wins. Harrison Burton impressed with his two wins and early string of top 10 finishes, while Chastain’s Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Haley grabbed a win at Talladega Superspeedway.

With these Xfinity Series drivers running up front and grabbing wins, it’s no surprise that Chastain has flown somewhat under the radar. Sure, he has contended for stage and race wins and has still had his share of TV time, but he is likely not the first name that comes to mind when you think of title contenders.

Chastain has quietly posted some impressive numbers, enough to be considered the ultimate dark horse of the Xfinity Series. The 27-year-old Alva, Florida native currently sits fourth place in the championship points standings, only four points behind third place Gragson, with seven top five finishes, a series-best 15 top 10 finishes (all but two races), 178 laps led and an 8.2 average finish, second best among full-time drivers.

Chastain’s top 10 streak currently sits at 10 races, and he has finished inside the top five in six of his last eight races, including a pair of runner-up finishes.

The fact that he has been able to post these top statistics, despite competing against bigger teams such as Team Penske, JR Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, should not come as a surprise.

Chastain took an underfunded JD Motorsports team to a 13th place finish in the championship standings in 2017 before taking the team to the playoffs in 2018. While two of his regular season starts came with Chip Ganassi Racing that year, he found himself in a playoff position on points prior to his first career win, which came with Chip Ganassi Racing in the regular season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

While that win came with a top team, it still surprised many given Chastain’s lack of prior success. But he made full use of his opportunity in top-tier equipment after outperforming with an underfunded team throughout the season.

Chastain started the playoffs with a second-place finish for Chip Ganassi Racing before closing out the year at JD Motorsports, finishing in 10th place in the championship standings with one win, three top five finishes and eight top 10 finishes.

The surprise season was considered a bit of a Cinderella story for the self-proclaimed “Watermelon Man”, who decided to smash a watermelon at the start-finish line to celebrate his first win.

In 2019, Chastain started the season running for Xfinity Series points with starts split between JD Motorsports and Kaulig Racing before switching to Truck Series points later in the year following a strong start with Niece Motorsports.

Niece Motorsports fielded one truck in one race in 2016 before running a full schedule with multiple drivers in 2017 and fielding two full-time trucks in 2018 while having other drivers make select starts. Austin Wayne Self finished in 12th place while Justin Fontaine finished in 16th in the championship standings in 2018.

The team had been showing improvement, but they had only three top 10 finishes entering 2019 before Chastain joined the organization. Intending only to run a partial schedule, he started the season with six straight top 10 finishes before grabbing his and Niece Motorsports’ first Truck Series victory at Kansas Speedway.

Chastain went on to record three wins, 10 top five finishes and 19 top 10 finishes in all 23 starts. He made the playoffs, recording top 10 finishes in six of seven races en route to a runner-up finish in the championship.

Winning three races and taking a team with just three prior top 10 finishes to a runner-up points result is an impressive feat and a clear example of Chastain’s dark horse nature.

This year, Chastain finds himself full-time in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing, a team that can compete for wins despite being smaller than some of their powerhouse competitors. Their technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing certainly helps, although technical alliances don’t always work out successfully.

Blake Koch took Kaulig Racing to the playoffs and a seventh place finish in the championship standings during their inaugural season in 2016. Koch (2017), Ryan Truex (2018) and Haley (2019) made the playoffs during the following three seasons as the team’s full-time drivers. This is the team’s first season with two full-time drivers.

Even with the team already having become a proven contender, Chastain still managed to take them one step further. His win last July at Daytona International Speedway was the first for the team, and he is responsible for 286 of the organization’s 515 laps led.

With notable statistics this season and a proven ability to bring teams the extra mile, Chastain is a driver who may fly under the radar but should be considered a serious championship threat.

While he has yet to win a race or a stage in 2020, he has more top 10 finishes than any other driver and is coming off of a surprise runner-up finish in the Truck Series championship. Consider him the ultimate Xfinity Series dark horse as the playoffs inch closer.