After his first-ever Cup victory at Circuit of the Americas in 2022, this eighth generation Central Florida watermelon farmer turned NASCAR driver is looking to nab his third career win at the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in Austin on March 26.
Trackhouse Racing star Ross Chastain is currently third in the points heading into the race weekend; just four points behind Christopher Bell (second), and five behind Joey Logano (current leader). Chastain finished second behind Logano in the 2022 Cup Series Championship.
The tight standings make for a thrilling weekend at COTA, where Chastain earned his first career win just last year. He says driving on the 3.41-mile road course feels “opposite” to him than what he’s used to with a typical 1.5-mile oval track. He's been making left-only turns since he was 12 years old, and even on his Florida farm he would navigate the grids of watermelons and turn left at the end of every row. Learning to navigate a road course meant seeking help from others who might have better experience.
“I went to driving schools [and] I went to older and other drivers to teach me and give me advice on the simple art of driving a race car at its limit to the right, and COTA’s no different,” he tells CultureMap. “It’s – to me – very ironic that we got our first Cup Series win at a road course.”
Many race car drivers have raised concerns about the bumpy surface of the track, even after parts of it were resurfaced in 2022. For Chastain, he thinks there’s a couple different perspectives a driver can take when it comes to blemished track surfaces. On the one hand, part of him loves the idea of a perfectly smooth track with "symmetrical corners" for him to put down a perfect lap. But the “racing purist” in him also wants to drive on the “worst track possible.”
“I want bumps and cracks, different corners. I want to turn left and right...and just have variety, and COTA is getting that more and more," he says. "Our cars, they bottom out [and] slide...that’s what makes our racing so great is that we are out of control a lot."
Unlike F1 drivers, who tend to be more precise on track, NASCAR drivers use anything and everything to their advantage to get a win, much like Chastain’s straight-from-a-video-game wall-ride move that subsequently got banned at the beginning of January.
COTA might not have a wall to ride, but it does have a 133-foot first turn elevation change. While it can be a challenge for some, it isn’t for Chastain. The high elevation allows him to charge into the corner hard, let gravity slow him down while going uphill, then let the car slide down while heading into turn two.
“I love it. I wish more tracks had more elevation change like [COTA]. It makes the racing more dynamic, and being behind the wheel in the driver’s seat makes it more fun,” he says.
When considering the momentum it will take to score another win, Chastain admits it will be the biggest challenge he’s ever faced, but he’s confident in his ability to carry over that drive and motivation after his 2022 second-place Cup Series finish.
In line with the car’s continuing evolution, as he puts it, a recent aerodynamics change is expected to shake up who ends up at the top of the leaderboard. But his calm demeanor shows he isn’t phased by the changes.
“As simple as it sounds, we race in circles on Sunday afternoons, and this sport is a big circle of teams [and drivers] cycling up, cycling down,” says Chastain. “We’ll have to work harder than ever to try and stay at the top here.”
To kick off the race weekend and initiate some good luck for his Sunday race, Chastain (ever-connected to his roots) will drop watermelons off COTA’s illustrious 251-foot observation tower on Friday, March 24 at 2 pm.
The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas will run from 2:30-6 pm on Sunday, March 26. More information about the race can be found at circuitoftheamericas.com, and tickets can be purchased at nascaratcota.com.