NASCAR: Ross Chastain is defying a bizarre trend in 2022

Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR (Photo by Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing Team, NASCAR (Photo by Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports) /

The number of DNFs in the NASCAR Cup Series is on the rise this season, but that hasn’t stopped Ross Chastain from having a career year.

Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain is having a career year through 12 races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, but it hasn’t happened without him being caught up in a bizarre trend.

DNFs are on the rise this year, with the Next Gen car seemingly more prone to spinning out. Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway saw 13 of 36 drivers fail to finish, mostly due to wrecks.

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That matches the number of DNFs from the April race at Talladega Superspeedway, a track at which there is supposed to be higher attrition due to pack racing and the resulting “big ones.”

So far this year, there have been 85 total DNFs, good for an average of 7.08 per race. The five-year average from 2017 and 2021 was just 5.36 per race.

Darlington race winner Joey Logano described the difference in the new car during a post-race media availability.

“The old car used to have a big sail on the side, that big door, and when it got loose, it wanted to be out there, you were able to kind of catch it,” said Logano. “Now, this car, once it starts getting sideways, the diffuser shuts off, all these things just go the wrong way, and it wants to spin out even quicker. So, there’s a point where everything’s really good and then, if you go past it, it’s a light switch and all hell breaks loose.”

Logano mentioned tracks with less grip and more bumps in particular, such as Darlington Raceway and Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s tricky right now as the teams try to understand, ‘How do you make speed in the car while also having the drivability and race-ability in the car?’” he explained. “It’s a pretty big challenge right now for us to figure out, and I think that’s why you see so many crashes, especially at tracks like this.”

As teams try to figure out the new car at different tracks, the trend of increased DNFs could continue. At the current pace, there would be 255 DNFs by the end of the season; the last time that number even passed the 200-mark was in 2017, when there were 233.

So how does Ross Chastain factor into this story?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the fewer races a driver finishes, the worse their average finish would be and the fewer top finishes they’d have.

But with Chastain, he has managed to put up some of the best results of any driver this season, despite being tied for the second most DNFs.

On Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Chastain was battling Denny Hamlin for the lead at the start of the final stage when he ran out of space and got loose in turn two, spinning into the inside backstretch wall. The crash gave him his third DNF of the year.

“(I) trusted the grip level of my car too much,” Chastain told reporters, including Noah Lewis, after being released from the infield care center. “I knew the bump was there…(I) thought on the bottom I’d be better, and I wasn’t. As soon as (the car) bottomed out, it was gone.”

Despite a third early exit, Chastain left Darlington in a tie for fifth place in the point standings. He owns the tiebreaker over Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. with his two wins, a win total which is tied with William Byron for the highest in the series.

Chastain leads the series in top five finishes (seven; no one else has more than five), has the fourth most laps led (269), and has the seventh best average finish (14.0).

While it may seem that the overall increase in DNFs and parity this season could make it easier for drivers such as Chastain to have stronger statistical ranks, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Of the other drivers with three or more DNFs, Kyle Larson is the only other driver inside the top 13 in points (ninth place), and while he is the only other driver with more than four top five finishes, he still has two fewer top five finishes than Chastain with five.

Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick are part of that group, and they both have as many runner-up finishes as Chastain (two). But Chastain has finished in the top three in three more races than they have. They are also further down in the other categories mentioned above.

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While the large number of DNFs is a bizarre trend in the NASCAR Cup Series this season, Chastain is defying that trend by having a career year, despite failing to finish a quarter of the races run thus far.