Race Weekend Central

The Melon Comeback: Ross Chastain Charges Through the Field in Overtime to Re-Gain Points Lead

AUSTIN, Texas — Tyler Reddick and his dominant No. 45 Monster Energy Toyota, not Ross Chastain, proved to be the class of the field throughout the day at Circuit of the Americas. Starting second and leading the most laps, Reddick survived the pandemonium of three overtimes and ended Sunday (March 26) in NASCAR Cup Series victory lane.

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Tyler Reddick Avoids Mayhem, Wins at COTA

However, Reddick’s dominant run didn’t go unchallenged toward the end of the race. Chastain, the race’s defending winner, was sitting right there behind him during the closing laps of the race.

The fact the No. 1 Chevrolet was even sitting near the front? It was a borderline miracle for Chastain, a testament to the driver’s aggression that got him buried deep in the field – and also sparked a stirring comeback.

Chastain started the weekend with a smash, literally. The humble watermelon farmer went 251 feet up the COTA observation tower to smash four watermelons in celebration of the first career win last year for him and his Trackhouse team.

“It was such a big day for our company,” Trackhouse Racing team owner Justin Marks said. “You can’t help but drive in here and have memories from that great day. In that respect, Circuit of the Americas will always be something special to our company.”

Qualifying 12th, it wouldn’t be an easy day for the No. 1 WWEX Chevrolet this time around.

Throughout the event, Chastain was committed to a two-stop strategy to conquer the 3.41-mile road course. He had moved himself from inside the top 10 in stage one to inside the top five following stage two.

But with 26 laps to go in regulation, dirt in turn 8 brought out a debris caution. That caused everyone to blend back into the same strategy, hoping to make it the distance from there although fuel mileage remained a concern for most teams.

After handling the restart, Chastain found himself behind the two most dominant cars of the day in Reddick and William Byron, who battled hard with each other for the lead despite fuel concerns.

Mired back in the pack, conserving his resources for fuel, Chastain and his teammate Daniel Suarez were eventually given the green light to pursue the leaders. Chastain got to the bumper of Byron but couldn’t get past him. Meanwhile, the No. 1 would be caught by the slightly more speedy No. 99.

It seemed like Chastain’s teammate Suarez could compete for the win until a late-race caution came out for Brad Keselowski losing power, setting up a restart with nine to go that would change the course of everyone’s day.

On a caution-flag stop, Chastain’s crew had trouble getting the right-side tires on and relegated their driver back to 16th. Then, on the restart, Chastain was spun by Erik Jones and stalled, causing another yellow. Chastain would take fresh tires but found himself at the end of the line of lead-lap cars, mired around 27th place.

Luckily for Chastain, the race was only going to get more wild.

With four laps to go, Austin Dillon would spread debris on the track from a blown tire, setting up the first overtime. Chastain had recovered to 14th.

On the first overtime attempt, Ryan Preece would get hooked by Ty Gibbs out of turn 1; damage from the incident caused Ryan Blaney‘s tire to blow. As the caution flew again, Chastain had moved back into the top 10 in ninth.

For the second overtime, Chastain made a big move in turn 1 to get his car in fifth while many drivers including Suarez, Martin Truex Jr., Justin Haley, Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell all spun or sustained damage to make NASCAR throw the yellow again, primarily caused by debris from Suarez’s flat tire.

For the final overtime, Chastain restarted on the outside of row two and had a real shot at back-to-back wins. He was eventually forced to settle for fourth, holding his position from Byron, but just to be in contention?

That left the Melon Man with a big smile on his face.

“After we got spun, we started in ace equipment south of town,” Chastain said, “So, that was a heck of a recovery. Field looks really big when they’re all in front of you. Somehow, we got through with damage that didn’t end our day.”

“Are you not entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” Chastain added. “This is what we love, I don’t love doing it. As a sport, we’re not boring.”

Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate thought about the ending quite differently. After the race, Suarez ended up talking to Chastain while he was parked.

“He was mad at me for being two rows back,” Chastain said, “He’s mad at me for a restart.

“I don’t understand how we could be so upset about crazy restarts we’re doing.”

With the late-race rally, Chastain took the Cup points lead and built a 19-point advantage over second-place finisher and second in points Kyle Busch, who had choice words about the watermelon man.

“Somebody else who doesn’t know a thing about clean over here,” Busch said as he pointed to Chastain.

Clearly, the Melon Man produced polarizing opinions once again with his aggressive style of racing. But the results he’s earned in 2023, posted through strong runs and aggressive comebacks like today, are reflected with who is atop the Cup standings.

About the author

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Wyatt Watson has followed NASCAR closely since 2007. He joined Frontstretchas a journalist in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter, collecting exclusive content for Frontstretch.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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Alex Curtis

Josh Williams has a piece of tape come off of his car causing a caution and gets parked. Ross Chastain intentionally parks his car on track to draw a caution flag to catch back up and not only does he not get a penalty for a real rule he reached super hero status and is the points leader, makes sense to me.

DoninAjax

And perfect cents to NA$CAR. It is not who you know but who you…

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