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"Heck of a drive" leaves Chastain as NASCAR Cup title runner-up

Ross Chastain couldn’t muster any last lap “Hail Mary” move to win his first NASCAR Cup Series crown but still left Sunday’s title race feeling pretty good.

Watch: Chastain ‘genuinely happy’ with his championship performance

Chastain started deepest in the field (25th) among the four title contenders on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway but had made his way into the top 10 by the start of Stage 2.

By the final laps of the race, his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet was the fastest car on the track and was closing on leader Joey Logano. Chastain ended up finishing third, 1.2 seconds behind Logano.

Despite speculation all week about whether Chastain or another driver would attempt to replicate his last-lap, wall-riding move to gain positions at Martinsville, there was no such drama in Arizona.

“I didn’t think it would (work). I think we were going too fast here,” Chastain said. “I thought it would at Martinsville and feel like I was very blessed and fortunate that it did. But not here.

“I think we did everything right there at the end. That was a heck of a drive by us.”

The journey here

After the race, Chastain seemed focused more on the long, winding journey that had brought him to a position on Sunday to compete for a Cup Series championship.

“It’s incredible to build from 2021. To have my family push me away from the farm to chase this dream,” he said. “For my mom, my dad and my brother to come out and keep pushing me, keep supporting me and keep being there for me.

“But today was all about winning the big trophy and we came up just a little bit short.”

Ross Chastain, TrackHouse Racing, Worldwide Express/AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro

Ross Chastain, TrackHouse Racing, Worldwide Express/AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Jasen Vinlove / NKP / Motorsport Images

A career-changing year

Still, Chastain, 29, enjoyed the best season of his NASCAR career.

He won his first two Cup races – at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega – and finished with 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes as well as second in the series standings.

“Who had the No. 1 car second in points on their bingo card on February 1? This is pretty wild,” Chastain said. “This is a continuation of a lot of people believing in me. To build everything together to come drive this car, there are so many team owners and so many crew members that have put in the work.

“It’s pretty wild to fight for a Cup Series championship and to have a car fast enough to chase them down to the end.”

Contact with Elliott

Chastain – who has been criticised during the season by some of his fellow competitors for making untimely moves in races – did get caught up in an incident Sunday with fellow title contender Chase Elliott.

On a restart on Lap 200 of 312, Elliott cut to the inside just in front of Chastain. Chastain had the position and didn’t lift, getting into the back of Elliott’s car and sending him into the wall.

Chastain wasn’t about to take the blame on this one.

“I got to the left of (Elliott) and saw an erratic move that he made to turn left to cover it but I was already there,” he said. “It’s not how I want to race them or those guys.

“I needed other Chevys up there to fight those other guys. It’s not what I want to do, but I feel like I had position on him and he tried to cover it late.”

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