LEBANON, Tenn. (AP) — Ross Chastain has been criticized as reckless and too aggressive, a driver seen as giving no respect and not deserving any from competitors.
His hard-driving style paid off Sunday night as Chastain held off Martin Truex Jr. to win the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway, his first win in over a year and the third NASCAR Cup Series victory of his career.
Chastain said everyone has to deal with criticism. His approach? Just keep working.
“I got to tell you, a lot of self-reflection through all this, but I had a group that believed in me and they didn’t let me get down,” Chastain said. “And they bring rocket ships, and I just try to point them to victory lane.”
This was Chastain’s first win since Talladega in April 2022, and he drove his Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet to the team’s first victory this year at its home track. Chastain had started on the pole for the first time in his career.
Trackhouse owner Justin Marks said he talked with Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske for advice on handling a hard-charging driver after Chastain’s late crash off a restart at Darlington took both him and Hendrick star Kyle Larson out of contention as they raced for the lead.
Marks compared Chastain’s learning curve to that of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart — aggressive drivers who had to learn how to compete at the Cup level. Marks called this a “huge win” for Trackhouse and a big moment for Chastain, who went three-wide during a critical four-lap stretch.
“It says we have an opportunity to win so many races and compete and win … championships in the series and such a bright future ahead of us,” Marks said. “And we’re all just like super motivated and inspired for the future.”
Chastain entered fourth in the season points race and wound up leading a race-high 100 laps at the 1.33-mile, D-shaped concrete oval. That included the final 34 laps as the 30-year-old had to weave by some slower traffic to hold off Truex by 0.789 seconds.
The driver known as “Melon Man” celebrated clinching a playoff berth with a burnout before smashing a watermelon onto the start-finish line. Chastain shared some of the watermelon with fans, keeping a piece on top of his car and bringing it into the media center with him.
Truex led 50 laps as the season points leader tried to string together back-to-back wins. He won at Sonoma going into NASCAR’s lone break in the 38-race season.
“Just that close again,” said Truex, who notched his sixth top-five finish and extended his points lead. “We keep doing that, we’ll be OK.”
Truex finished ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, both in Toyotas. Chase Elliott was fourth and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson was fifth.
Hamlin led 81 laps and said he thought he had a third-place car with Truex a little better.
“The 1 (Chastain) obviously came on strong there at the end,” Hamlin said. “We gave ourselves a chance, just didn’t have quite a fast enough car to go up and contend.”
Tyler Reddick started beside Chastain on the front row and won the first stage.
As they began the second stage, Truex went three-wide at the front with Chastain and William Byron for some thrilling racing on a track known for having boring competition for years after opening in 2001.
The Xfinity Series race on Saturday was chaotic, with cautions starting on the opening lap.
The second caution on Sunday didn’t come until lap 138 when Reddick lost his right rear tire as he tried to steer his Toyota onto pit road just after having pitted. His car got loose, and he spun into the grass with the tire coming off at the entrance to pit road.
With Trackhouse based in the Nashville area, Chastain’s crew chief Phil Surgen said the team’s failure to win at its “home” track was beginning to creep into everyone’s mind. This win ends that relatively short drought for a team that Marks put together in 2020.
“This is the race that I want to win more than any of the races besides the one they hold in Florida and the one they hold in Arizona,” Marks said. “And so it’s a big day for us.”
Chastain now has finished in the top five in all three Cup races at Nashville.
The third caution out of four in the race came on lap 146 on the restart on the frontstretch as Ryan Blaney crashed head-on into an interior wall after being tapped from behind by Kyle Busch with Alex Bowman also involved. Blaney walked out of the infield care center after what he called the hardest hit of his life.
Blaney said he checked up on the restart and got hit from behind, then he couldn’t get his Ford straightened up after hitting the grass. He called it “pretty ridiculous” there was no SAFER barrier on the infield wall.
“Stinks going home early,” Blaney said.
Bubba Wallace made his 200th Cup Series start, looking to add to his two career wins and 15 top fives. He started ninth in the No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing and finished 15th.
NASCAR runs a street course race on July 2 in downtown Chicago.