Top Dog: Ross Chastain
After going on an absolute tear from Las Vegas Motor Speedway to Circuit of the Americas, the NASCAR Cup Series short track swing appeared to bring Ross Chastain back to earth after a 19th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.
However, Chastain’s impressive results are becoming the norm now, as he soldiered through the field late to earn a fifth-place finish at Martinsville Speedway (April 9). To think that Chastain was struggling to run in the top 20 shows how far he came to reel in the performance at The Paperclip.
In a race where passing appeared more difficult than usual as there were no green flag passes for the lead, Chastain earned it the hard way after starting 17th. He drove up to 18th at the end of stage one, then gained another five spots to conclude stage two in 13th place.
Despite the passing struggle, Martinsville still produced plenty of fireworks. Chastain’s No. 1 GoPro Chevrolet appeared to be in the middle of it, getting pushed into Alex Bowman‘s rear bumper at one point during the final stage before getting sent high in the corner a couple of laps later.
Green flag pit stops aren’t thought of usually when Martinsville comes to mind, but Chastain’s pit strategy pointed him in the right direction. A caution for debris on lap 313 reset the field, giving him new life. He tackled it head-on, driving up inside the top 10 and settling into the sixth position. That is where he stayed until another yellow came with seven laps remaining.
Chastain lined up third on the outside for the overtime restart, pitting him against Kurt Busch. Both drivers went toe-to-toe for the final two circuits, with Chastain pinning Busch down enough to squeeze by and earn the fifth-place spot.
The 29-year-old described the challenge of learning the new car with several reporters after the race, including his take on how drivers were used to passing with the old car. Drivers shifted about four times every lap as well, another key change the Next Gen has brought and one Chastain didn’t necessarily enjoy.
Ross Chastain on the race conditions:
He says people are misremembering the old car but does think there was too much shifting, even though he understands NASCAR's gear strategy here. pic.twitter.com/puWXp39mAC
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverRA) April 10, 2022
The Alva, Fla. native now has five top five finishes, which leads the series eight races into 2022. Chastain has also already bested his 2021 top five count of three and sits fifth in the points. It was also his first career top five on a short track.
Numbers are iconic in any sport, but NASCAR has that unique following to a number. At times, Martinsville brought that nostalgia back, with the Nos. 2, 3, 21, 24, 48 and others providing reminders of dominance there. After all, the Nos. 24 and 3 finished one-two, which was last seen at the half-mile track in 1999. Of course, you can’t put Martinsville and numbers in the same sentence without mentioning No. 43, a number that Richard Petty wheeled to victory lane there a record 15 times.
Erik Jones now wheels The King’s famous chariot, and he is beginning to find his footing in it. Jones brought the No. 43 FocusFactor Chevrolet home in 13th. It was a solid recovery for the Byron, Mich. native, who went down a lap in stage one due to Chase Elliott‘s blistering pace. The long green-flag runs delayed Jones’ shot at getting back on the lead lap until the yellow flew on lap 313. The No. 43 team pitted under yellow with five laps to go, giving him fresh tires to earn his top 15 result. After starting the season with three finishes of 25th or worse in four races, Jones has three top 15s in the past four races.
The Paperclip was not kind to the dark horses outside of Chastain and Jones. After putting some solid runs together consecutively, both Todd Gilliland and Justin Haley have endured back-to-back finishes outside the top 20. Gilliland impressed early in the weekend, qualifying in 10th, however, a blown tire with seven laps to go relegated him to a 30th-place finish. Haley also had a solid qualifying run, starting from 17th. Long runs ultimately doomed the No. 31 Chevrolet, resulting in a 31st-place finish.
On the other side of the spectrum for Trackhouse Racing, Daniel Suarez had a learning experience. The No. 99 struggled all night, having a strategy for the wave around backfire on older tires in stage two. Aside from an attempt to move Elliott and get a lap back at the end of stage two, Suarez was a non-factor, finishing four laps down in 29th. The result dropped him outside of the playoff standings to the 19th position, 18 points out.
Underdogs Sound Off
Chastain (fifth): “It took 300-something laps just to where I could see the leaders. I don’t even know if we made any adjustments tonight. I don’t think we did, which was incredible because yesterday we needed a lot. For once I wish one of these Cup races went the full 500. That’s odd, I never think that. Proud of the effort. Proud of the rebound from yesterday for Trackhouse.”
Jones (13th): “The FOCUSfactor team fought hard for every position tonight. Our Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 fired off tight from the beginning and as the run built, the car would have so much drive off but no turn. During the second stage, the car was loose in and plowing tight up off. With the race being mostly caution-free, there weren’t a ton of opportunities to make adjustments or gain track position, but Dave (Elenz, crew chief) kept working on it every chance he had. He made a great strategy call during the green flag pit cycle that kept us out longer than others which really paid off. When the yellow came, we were able to return to the lead lap and move forward from there. I’m happy to be leaving Martinsville with a 13th-place finish.”
Ty Dillon (23rd): “Our ChevyLiners.com team battled all night. We started deep in the field and unfortunately didn’t have the best track position for the opening segment. The No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was loose on entry, tight in the center and needed drive on exit for the first 80 laps. It felt like the right-side tires were lacking grip, but Jerame (Donley, crew chief) made air pressure and chassis adjustments that helped the overall handling. During the green flag stop, we played strategy as much as possible and came up about one lap short of getting our laps back. Proud of the effort that everyone on this Petty GMS team showed and we will keep building.”
AJ Allmendinger (24th): “We didn’t start the night off great with a pass-through penalty that cost us a lap, but we fought hard. Our No. 16 Action Industries Camaro struggled on the long runs, so I think that hurt us the most. I think we learned quite a bit and got the most out of our day. It’s something small to build on, and we will keep pushing forward.”
Haley (31st): “It wasn’t the day we were looking for at Martinsville. We had some good short-run speed, but we just struggled on the long runs. Trying to get the dynamic of the car to work throughout the whole run is key for our short-track program. I’m looking forward to Bristol, which I think will be good for us.”
Small Team Scheme of the Race
Finding a scheme that stood out this week was no easy task as many underdog teams sported new looks. With a shout out to Live Fast Motorsports for BJ McLeod‘s No. 78 Epilepsy Ford and JTG Daughtery Racing for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 47 Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet, Trackhouse captured the best look.
Trackhouse welcomed GoPro aboard for both Chastain and Suarez for the first time this season, featuring reverse schemes for both drivers. Chastain’s No. 1 featured a black base while Suarez’s No. 99 had white. The jury is out on which is better, but Trackhouse once again knocked it out of the park with these schemes.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 9, 2022
Top Dog Count
Both Chastain’s streaks of top-five finishes and top dog status ended at Richmond Raceway a week ago, but he bounced back for his fifth top dog notch of the year. With two unknowns looming in the dirt race at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track and Talladega Superspeedway, things could look a lot different over the next two weeks.
Daytona: Michael McDowell
Auto Club: Erik Jones
Las Vegas – Circuit of the Americas: Ross Chastain
Richmond: Daniel Suarez
Martinsville: Ross Chastain
About the author
Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.