ROSS CHASTAIN, NO. 42 CHIP GANASSI RACING CAMARO ZL1 1LE, Daytona Media Availability Highlights:
WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE OBSTACLES YOU FACE IN JOINING A NEW TEAM, A TEAM THAT’S HAD SUCCESS AT THE CUP SERIES LEVEL, WHEN PRACTICE AND SHOP ADJUSTMENTS ARE AT A PREMIUM RIGHT NOW?
“I don’t know if that question is ready to be answered, honestly. The best thing right now, ahead of the season, in trying to prepare is that it was all familiar faces. It’s not a new building. I didn’t have to get a new key to get into the shop. Everything at Team Chevy is familiar. We’ve been able to just ramp-up that dialogue to another level. I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect yet.”
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF HAVING A PRIOR NASCAR CUP CHAMPION LIKE KURT BUSCH TO GUIDE YOU?
“I’m going to follow that guy’s lead, even on Media Day I’m following him. He’s a good guy to follow. We’ve gotten to spend some time together this off-season. He came by the watermelon farm. I showed him around a little bit. He got to meet some of my family. We’re not that different in a lot of ways in just taking and chatting about life and race cars and watermelons and talking about his childhood. He actually ran some of the same series’ I did, and my dad did, as a hobby; that was cool to talk about old times. He’s been there and he’s done it. The depth of drivers and like the best role models I can try to be like; I’ve had some really good ones in my life obviously, with my dad. But you get into the CGR fold and the guys that Chip (Ganassi) has assembled (like) Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti and Jimmie Johnson; these are all guys that I’ve been able to now go to and ask questions. Kurt is first and foremost and the closest, and we’re driving the same race car. I’ve bugged him with quite a few questions.”
YOUR STORY OF HOW HARD YOU’RE WORKING JUST TO GET AN OPPORTUNITY IS WELL-KNOWN. IS THIS YOUR SHOT, YOUR ONE SHOT? DOES THIS HAVE TO WORK AT GANASSI?
“As a racer, yeah. I don’t want to go fail. So, there is no alternative. There is no Plan B. We have the farm and will still grow and sell watermelons, but yeah as a racer, I want to succeed, and I want to do my jobs. Yeah, this is it.”
YOU HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING A HARD-CHARGER AND A HARD RACER. DOES THAT CHANGE NOW WITH THIS OPPORTUNITY? DO YOU TRY TO MAYBE BLEND IN A LITTLE BIT MORE? DO YOU APPROACH THINGS DIFFERENTLY NOW?
“Yes. Definitely blend in more. I’m not going to let anybody pass. I’m not going to purposely run into anybody. I think that’s maybe been embellished a little bit over the years and I haven’t done any work to diminish it. I’ve embraced it and enjoyed how people view me and how people talk about me. We’ve used it internally with the race teams that I’ve driven for over the last two years to really motivate and find that extra little bit of speed in the race trucks and cars and I would not trade anything. All those steps and mistakes are what got me here. But yes, definitely blend in a little better. I don’t want or need a line of drivers or crew chiefs or anybody to be lined-up at the car after these races. This is the premier series and I have to elevate to that level. I have a long way to go. This is going to be the biggest step of my career.”
“It’s a benefit to them but they’ve earned it. Those guys have done what they needed to do to meet all the requirements and luckily, we do have Kurt. I’ll be watching and listening and looking through everything that the No. 42 team will be watching and in constant communication with the No. 1 team. And whatever they do learn will help us. It only can help. But from the pure driving aspect of getting laps there, I’ve got some laps in the Xfinity car, but they weren’t exactly quality and I need more laps at all these places, especially road courses. Yeah, they’re going to have the upper hand but that’s okay. We’ll be there in the race.”
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE EVOLUTION OF SPIRE MOTORSPORTS WHERE THE FIRST SEASON THEY DIDN’T REALLY HAVE A BUILDING TO WORK OUT OF AND NOW THEY’RE EXPANDING AND GIVING OTHER DRIVERS A SHOT?
“Genius. I mean they didn’t have a wrench or a jack or nothing. They didn’t even have a car. And they’ve progressively built it with the help of a lot of other people and team owners along the way that I’ve gotten to drive for as well. But taking that step to buy a shop, acquire charters, and get real race cars; they’re going to have some really good cars and good engines. Corey (LaJoie), just like me, he’s going to have that next step in performance. Years ago, when people thought they were kind of crazy and I think it was the joke when it was just a cash grab, it wasn’t. They had a long-term goal. I got to be just a fly on the wall for a lot of those talks years ago. Even I was kind of like man, I don’t know. But everything they said they wanted to do, they’ve accomplished. Obviously, I’m indebted to them and tied to them and friends with them and want to see them succeed. Having the alliance with us at CGR is big. It’s a big deal. It gives us another Chevy teammate as well at Daytona. We all know Corey can drive, so it’s going to be really cool.”
HEADING INTO YOUR FIRST FULL SEASON IN CUP RACING, HOW WAS YOUR OFF-SEASON DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS?
“More relaxing, to be honest. I can say that truthfully. I got more sleep across the board, knowing what I was going to do. And I had goals; very specifically. Ahead of these races we started planning back when we knew we were going to do this season, and then really ramped it up as soon as Phoenix was over. We all took our holiday breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we have been more diligent than I’ve ever been able to be with a team of time in the Chevy simulator and just talking. It is on a Zoom call sometimes or finding a conference room and sitting probably 15 feet apart, but just talking with my core group of guys that I’m going to spend this year going to battle with; and just being in that communication where they know what I mean when I say this; and that I’m maybe not the biggest motivational speaker on the radio pre-race or post-race, and that’s the time to do our job. Having those goals have been the biggest things to keep me on track.”
HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED WITH THE AMOUNT OF TIME REQUIRED, SUCH AS PHOTO SHOOTS, THAT YOU MAYBE HAVEN’T THOUGHT ABOUT BEFORE?
“Not really because fortunately we have done photo shoots. We have done production days. But I’m just kind of out there by the car by myself because everybody is away because I have my mask off, right? So, I’m by myself and my mask is close by. I can put it on, and we can go see what we need to fix or do. But that’s the bad part of all this. All the pageantry and going to Daytona, I’ve been fortunate enough to run two Daytona 500 races and I’ve been there as a fan for years. Once I get in the car it won’t matter; but pre-race, the place won’t be sold out. We’ve been sold out for years in a row now and even back to photo shoots and these things, we should be at the 500 Club and the infield at Daytona doing this, not here. We should be in fire suits and carrying helmets around and trying to grab lunch in between sessions. We don’t get that person-to-person interaction.”
AS A DRIVER, WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO IMPROVE UPON?
“Everything. There is so much (laughs). I mean, we all have better laps or better days than others, whether its in normal life or around the race track and making those bad days better and those good days great and keeping the mistakes down and staying like calm and cool. That’s the biggest thing. I won’t know until I get in the car, but really try to just be a better person inside the car and have a better outlook and not worry as much whenever something doesn’t go how I think it should. Controlling what I can control is the biggest thing and the rest of it is racing. We don’t call it winning. We call it racing. That’s what I can go better.”
KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW IN MAKING THIS JOURNEY, WHAT WOULD BE THE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOURSELF FIVE YEARS AGO?
“Believing it’s going to happen. I was doing it. I did believe but I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the end goal. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what we were talking about and what we were trying to prepare to do but yeah. I would probably even back up farther than that and when I first got to NASCAR, I was so naive in the Truck Series. People were telling me there was a way, but I just knew the real facts of it and I didn’t know if it would actually happen.”
DO YOU THINK MAYBE SOME DRIVERS IN THE CUP SERIES MAY NOT TRUST YOU COME FEBRUARY 14th ON-TRACK OR DO YOU EVEN CARE IF THEY DO? WOULD YOU RATHER JUST WORK WITH YOUR TEAMMATES INSTEAD OF TRYING TO GATHER THEIR TRUST?
“I definitely need their trust. Fortunately, with my high number of starts in the Cup Series, I will not have rookie stripes. For all the reasons I thought I would be a rookie by the rules, we won’t be. And I think once we’re out there racing, I’ll try to do the best I can to help my line move forward. Yeah, I’ve made mistakes. There’s no way around it. Huge mistakes that cost me and my teams a lot of money and a lot of points and a lot of chances at wins. So, I can only try to be better from that.”
OVER THE YEARS, WE’VE SEEN WHERE THE BEST DRIVER DOESN’T ALWAYS MAKE IT TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND IN HIS RESPECTIVE NASCAR SERIES’. HOW IS THE PLAYOFFS A GOOD MEASURE FOR DETERMINING A CHAMPION WITH OTHER MOTORSPORTS USE A SEASON-LONG FORMAT?
“It’s the rules we have. We all know it and we all plan accordingly. Whatever series you’re in as a racer, you’re going to examine the rule book and find the gray areas on the car and on the driving and what’s acceptable, so it’s no different with the points. We know we have to. And the driver points are what this series and this sanctioning body had built our sport to live on. Making the Playoffs is pivotal for everybody. So, that’s it. If it was a different format, we’d focus on that. At the end of the day, whatever your point structure is, they’re just race cars or trucks and different courses. We just go try to win.”
EVERYBODY KNOWS YOU AS THIS HIGH-ENERGY GUY WHEN IT COMES TO WINNING, YOUR CELEBRATIONS, YOUR SIGNATURE WATERMELONS. HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK THAT IS OR THESE DRIVERS TO HAVE THIS BIG BURST OF PERSONALITY NOW THAT WE HAVE A WHOLE NEW SPECTRUM OF TRACKS AND RACING AND NEW FANS COMING INTO THIS SPORT?
“I love that I have something that actually means so much to me and my family. To sit down and go home after we won that first race in Las Vegas and talk to my Grandad and we were just sitting there eating watermelon at his house and he’s just like, you just showed so many more people water watermelons. And we believe that’ll help more people buy more watermelons. A rising tide raises all ships. And although they might not be buying one of our watermelons, it’s something that our family lives on and is our livelihood. Everybody, I don’t think, is going to have something as tangible and visual and funny and makes as many people smile as a watermelon, but I do think that guys should put that effort in. We all can’t do backflips. We call have to find our niche, and it’s no different than life in general. Mine was a very natural and easy fit and it wasn’t planned. That’s what makes it even better. It’s evolved. I just held it up that first week and somebody asked what I was going to do with it and I’m like I guess we’ll go smash it. So, it just evolves and that’s what makes it so cool. No doubt about it. We are a traveling circus, right? It seems kind of funny to say it out loud but that’s just kind of how I view it in a laughing, joking manner. We come, we set-up our tent, we perform our show, we compete, we pack it up, and we go to the next town. Why not embrace it and everybody has their thing?”