NASCAR playoff contenders: No. 8 – Ross Chastain
Ross Chastain’s 2022 playoff appearance was extremely memorable, not just for his second place points finish in only his first year with Trackhouse Racing Team, but for his now infamous “Hail Melon” wall ride in the Championship 4 cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway. While his performance has taken a slight step back this year, he remains a driver who can win on any given weekend.
The case for Ross Chastain
Last season, Chastain continued to surprise people more and more as the season went on. Heading into 2022, many did not view him as a playoff-worthy driver, let alone a driver who would be in the Championship 4. But he proved those doubters wrong with two early season wins and an appearance in the final round.
Despite being a little off compared to what he did last season, much of the substance that helped Chastain reach the Championship 4 has remained this season. He has proven that he can show up in the most crucial situations, and finishing one position ahead of where he finished last year is a very real possibility.
The case against Ross Chastain
While Chastain is still a regular contender for wins, there has been an uptick in intermediate tracks where he has been a complete nonfactor. In some cases, he has spent most of the race running outside the top 20.
As mentioned, the playoffs include quite a few intermediate tracks, and having speed and good finishes in those races is effectively a requirement to advance.
Chastain could easily find his mojo and return to being a frequent contender for wins, but the other issue has been a well-documented and recurring one. Much like last year, he has been involved in several on-track incidents with other top drivers in the series.
In May, he was involved in two in back-to-back weeks. The first was an incident at Kansas Speedway with Noah Gragson, which caused a post-race confrontation between the two and resulted in punches thrown. The following week at Darlington Raceway, he was involved in a late accident with Kyle Larson and subsequently drew the ire of Larson and the No. 5 team.
Should Chastain want to repeat last season’s playoff success, he will need to avoid having another dustup with a playoff driver.