Coming into the Truck Series championship race, there was no doubt that nearby Fort Lauderdale native, Ross Chastain, had high hopes of winning his first NASCAR Series championship after a long and rocky road to the top.
At the beginning of the 2019 season, the Niece Motorsports driver wasn’t even running for the championship. It was more about helping the team get to a point where they could be in contention to win a championship down the line with the right driver. But they had already found the right driver.
Chastain opened up the season at Daytona with a third-place finish in a beat-up race truck. While many may consider it luck after the whole field had been involved in some sort of incident, he followed it up the next week at Atlanta with a sixth place finish. This consistency was likely going to put Niece Motorsports in a spot to win the Owner’s title this year at Homestead.
Then Kansas happened and Chastain got his first career Truck Series victory, actually, the first win in NASCAR of any kind. As you would expect, the victory was a popular one among the fans. With the victory, Chastain gained more fans and quite possibly more respect within the racing world, giving him even more motivation and fight to rise to the top.
Just a few weeks later, the team decided to run for the Truck Series championship after having early success. Then, an unfortunate circumstance occurred at Iowa. NASCAR has a new post race procedure that stipulates if a driver in any series fails the post-race technical inspection, either their win or finishing position will be stripped from them, ultimately resulting in a last-place finish.
Unfortunately, it happened to Chastain at Iowa where he had the best truck out of anyone, leading 141 out of the 200 laps. In post race inspection, however, his truck was found to be too low. Due to the infraction, the Niece Motorsports team was credited with a last-place finish.
Knowing they did nothing wrong, the team tried to appeal the issue in order to get the win back. Despite their efforts, Chastain and Niece lost the appeal and had to focus their attention on the next race at Gateway. At Gateway, the Florida native once again proved the doubters wrong and earned another popular victory which put him in the running for the championship.
Chastain continued to find success by finishing in the top-10 and winning at Pocono.
Then the Playoffs began at Bristol and Chastain knew he had to have a strong Truck in order to beat the other contenders and fight for the championship. Despite crashing out of the race at Talladega, the Niece driver finished second at Martinsville and ninth at ISM Raceway. The ninth-place finish locked him into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Qualifying was washed out at Homestead due to rain showers and Chastain started third based on owner points. The team ran solid all night, leading the first 28 laps before being passed by Austin Hill late in the stage. Chastain had to settle for a second place position in Stage 1. In Stage 2, he was strong once again and finished third.
The last round of green flag pit stops began with 38 laps to go. Chastain was the first down pit road to make adjustments to his Truck. But, the Florida native continued to struggle late in the going and ultimately needed a late race caution in order to help his chances.
By night’s end, Chastain did not catch the break he needed and finished fourth in the race and second in the Truck Series championship. It was not enough to secure his first NASCAR title though the effort did not go unseen by his No. 45 Niece Motorsports team.
“Just too lose,” Chastain said to MRN Radio. “It’s crazy. I am not disappointed in second by any means. From where we were a year ago, to when we made the switch and everything we’ve been through, I’m living my dream out here. It sucks right now, but it’ll be okay. The sun will come up tomorrow and we’ll be just fine.”
“So proud of the Niece Motorsports Car Shield and everybody that helps on this deal, Al Niece (Team Owner). We gave it all we had, there’s nothing left, I can tell you that. Thank you to everyone that came out tonight. We did not go unnoticed tonight, they knew we were here and we’ll be back.”
Despite falling short, Chastain never gave up no matter what challenge came his way.
“Just don’t quit,” he added. “This sport, it’s all of our dreams. Everyone is out here working in this industry. Even the people that came out to watch the race tonight, it’s what we worked for to do this. To come up one spot short in the championship is not the end of the world. The sun will come up tomorrow and I’ll still have my faith, family and everyone around me. I’ll just keep going.”
With the focus now switched to the NASCAR Xfinity Series competition full-time for Kaulig Racing, Chastain ends his 2019 efforts with three wins, 10 top-fives, 19 top-10s along with 591 laps led and an average finishing position of 8.6.