NASCAR: Ross Chastain not locked into playoffs after Nashville

Ross Chastain, Ally 400, Nashville Superspeedway, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Ross Chastain, Ally 400, Nashville Superspeedway, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Ross Chastain secured his first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season at Nashville Superspeedway, but he hasn’t officially locked himself into the playoffs.

It’s hard to believe that it had been more than 14 months since Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain had visited victory lane as a NASCAR Cup Series race winner, given all that has happened and the speed he has shown during that stretch.

But that is length of the drought — plus one day — that the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet ended on Sunday night at Nashville Superspeedway when he held off Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr.

After earning his and Trackhouse Racing Team’s first ever pole position for Ally 400, Chastain led 99 laps of the 300-lap race around the four-turn, 1.33-mile (2.140-kilometer) Lebanon, Tennessee oval to secure his third career victory and first since he won at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 24, 2022.

The Nashville win all but locks the 30-year-old Alva, Florida native into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

That being said, Chastain’s playoff spot isn’t mathematically secured — yet. The reason why he officially locked up his playoff spot is because there are 16 playoff spots no matter how many drivers win a regular season race, and there have already been 11 winners.

There are still nine regular season races remaining on the schedule, and quite a few of them are what you might consider “wild card” races. Five of them are either superspeedway races or road/street course races, and there are four other races at tracks where several winless drivers have excelled and/or won at in the past.

It is entirely possible that the regular season concludes with more winners/playoff eligible drivers than playoff spots. The regular season champion locks into the playoffs regardless of whether or not he is a race winner, and the other 15 spots go to the drivers who rank next highest in wins.

So the only drivers who have truly secured playoff spots at this point in the year are those who have won more than once, since the 26-race regular season can produce no more than 13 multi-race winners.

Just four drivers have won multiple times this year, those being Truex, Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson, and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch.

Still, Chastain should feel safe. Of the seven drivers who have won exactly one race this year, Chastain is highest in the point standings, sitting in a second place tie overall.

So even if there are more than 16 winners (or more than 15, in the event that there is a winless regular season champion), he is likely heading to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

DraftKings Sportsbook, which is currently giving an instant $150 to fans who simply sign up and bet $5, lists Chastain as the 10th favorite to win this year’s championship at +1200.

Chastain has now found victory lane in both of his seasons with the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned team, and he has excelled in particular at the track they consider their “home” track.

Since Nashville Superspeedway was added to the Cup Series schedule, he has finished no lower than fifth place there. He placed second in 2021 with Chip Ganassi Racing, the team Trackhouse Racing Team acquired last year, and fifth in 2022 in his first season behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet en route to a Championship 4 appearance.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The 18th race on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule is the Grant Park 220, which is scheduled to take place this Sunday, July 2 at the new Chicago Street Course. The Cup Series’ first ever street course race is set to be broadcast live on NBC starting at 5:30 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!