Q. What has it been like to be one of the most famous people in the sports world around the whole globe this week?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Say that one more time (laughter).
It’s wild, it really is. I’ve just tried to even grasp how far it’s went. Hearing from different people that are literally around the world, they’re like people that have never talked about NASCAR are talking to them about it. That’s Asia, Mexico, like everywhere. It’s wild.
What has it been like? It’s been odd. It doesn’t seem like it’s me in the car. Like, it’s not my car when I watch the video.
Q. When you get tweets, Fernando Alonso… You have Phoenix to focus on, but surely all that’s around you, are you enjoying it?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I am. It’s wild because in, like, the same breath I can get excited for what we’ve accomplished and scared to death about what we’ve accomplished. It’s so cool that I’m getting to experience this. I’m so lucky and blessed to get to feel this for a race. It’s all for a race on Sunday, one afternoon.
Yeah, I have taken some time to look, but obviously it’s been full focus on Phoenix and prep. It’s just another race, so it’s just like any other week. For better or worse, you’ve got to turn it off. You have to turn it off at some point. That got turned off.
But you can’t open social media without seeing it. It’s like, Dang it. I just want to see what these guys are saying today and I still see my stuff popping up, so…
We’re just living in the moment, though.
Q. Has it set in what these last four days have been like, what this buzz has been like?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, it doesn’t seem real. Sometimes I watch the clip and it doesn’t seem like it’s me in the car or even my car, probably because it’s like a blur. It just flies by everybody.
It’s been good, though. Man, in the same breath I can get excited for what we’ve accomplished and I can also be scared to death about what we’ve accomplished.
There are nerves and there’s anxiety and there is fear of failure. How cool is it that I’m getting to experience this? It’s so, so cool that I get to feel this.
In the moment, it’s not pleasant, the nerves. I wish they would go away. At the end of the week on Friday, I’ll get to get in my car and drive for 50 minutes. That will be the ultimate test of can I go drive and block everything else out, because that’s how it’s always been for me. That will be the ultimate test.
Q. People that maybe you didn’t expect to reach out, have they reached out to you since Sunday?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I’d say the coolest one was Humpy Wheeler. He sent me a long couple of texts. I’ve gotten to know him this year at a few of the races. We’ve talked. Yeah, gave him my number. Wrote my number down on somebody else’s business card he had. I wrote it down with a Sharpie. He texted me. That was really, really neat. A couple of texts.
He was pumped. He checks in not just the wins and the good races. It’s a pretty good dialogue, more than I thought when I first met him. He loves it. He loves it. We’re up against some real giants in this sport and we keep fighting and we keep winning. Not that we won the race at Martinsville, but we won the moment to transfer. He was really excited.
Q. Do you think that’s a move that can have any success at Phoenix?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I don’t think it’s a move that can have any success at Martinsville. I still don’t know why it worked. Like, I look back at it, I look at the physics of it, I have people explain to me what happened, what I felt, why that car did not slow down, why it kept air in the tires.
The right front suspension broke, the right front upper control arm is broken, but I was able to get across the line before I could feel it. Down into one, I kept it pinned on the wall because it was broken.
Why it worked, I don’t know. I have no ideas or plans to ever do that again because it was not pleasant.
Q. To see Formula 1 drivers and other drivers acknowledge you, the recognition, what does that mean for you?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, it’s wild just to try to comprehend how far this has really went. I mean, just people that I know that are overseas in Asia or Mexico, people that don’t normally talk about NASCAR are talking about it. They’re going to watch. They say they’re going to watch this weekend.
Look, I am all for pushing the sport. I did not think it would be in that kind of way. But I will push NASCAR, the France family, this series as far as I can.
Now, it won’t always be wide open around the wall in this highlight reel of highlight reels, but I’m proud of it. I’m proud that we’ve moved the needle for fans and casual people that were not fans, but they see it and they want to now experience NASCAR. That makes them come to the track, feel that roar, that thunder when we go by. No different than walking up to an NHRA race, feeling that energy when 36 cars go by. It’s a different feeling.
I hope that more people come watch it. I’m not saying every time we’re going to be doing what we did at Martinsville. You come often enough, you’re going to see spectacular things when we push these cars over the limit.
Q. How many text messages did you get?
ROSS CHASTAIN: It was over a thousand. I haven’t caught up. I never buy the Internet on planes. I bought the Internet last night on the ride out. I texted the entire time. I got like through 400, yeah. So the rest, they’re going to have to wait till next week.
Q. How many people have your number now?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Most of them I already had their numbers.
Honestly, my guys, seeing their faces, was really cool. Then seeing the videos from behind the pit box, it was like our first win at Phoenix, seeing Harry, Justin, these guys that work on the car, react to us winning at COTA, transferring through it, Martinsville, is cool.
At Martinsville, that was the first time I’ve came down pit road right away. The other one I went and do burnouts, took me awhile. I had crew members from other teams, guys I worked with, guys I casually know, guys that don’t like me come out, physically high five me, thumbs up, clap.
Having the industry do that more than I’ve ever witnessed, I mean, it took me a while to get down pit road. I’ve just never experienced that. It was a lot of people like that that I’ve worked with on teams that I already had their number. I didn’t have Humpy’s number so I had to program that one in.
Q. How do you channel the nerves on race day?
ROSS CHASTAIN: On race day? I don’t know yet. These Playoffs have been different. Just racing in Cup is wild. Fortunately I had several years with Jay Robinson and Premium Motorsports to run Cup races in plain sight and no one knew.
I could stand out on the grid at Richmond, a friend of might have walked up, Do you mind if I talk to you?
No, buddy. Nobody is around. Nobody cares about me.
Funny enough, a ride was on my right and on my left, but we qualified in between them.
I was like, No, it’s fine. Yeah, I got nothing.
Now, if that was to be the case, a buddy won’t be able to walk up to me before the race because there will be too many people.
I had time to learn Cup racing out there, but not in the spotlight. It’s been a through progression through the 42 car and now the 1 car to build to this.
Race morning still feels different. It’s special. I hope truly that I never lose that. The Playoffs were another level of different and more nerves. Then Martinsville was different. I expect Phoenix to be different.
It’s not pleasant in the moment. But looking back at each of these, it’s so cool to get to experience that. I feel blessed that I get to feel this way about driving a race car.
Q. In some ways what you were able to do, it’s a reflection of how your career has been in NASCAR. Could you talk a little bit about maybe does it sum up what you’ve gone through in your career to get to this point?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I think it does because I didn’t plan that, to run the wall. It popped into my head at the white flag. Why it did, I don’t know that I’ll ever know the reason. Like, believe me when I say it, I did not practice this, I did not know I was going to go to fifth gear instead of fourth. It was all a reaction.
Why am I wired that way? I don’t know. In some aspects of my life, I think that it hurts me the way that I am. But in driving a race car, it helps me. It makes other parts of life a little more difficult, but it makes driving the race car that much better.
Yeah, I mean, why would I ever hold it wide open and pin it against the wall at Martinsville? Never would I have ever thought I would do that, and we did it. I don’t know why.
Q. Just do it, JDI?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah. Just do it. That usually more applies to, like, you got to go early or stay late, work on Sunday. That doesn’t usually mean purposely drive something off in the ditch or into the wall. We’re not driving our tractors off in the ditch. There’s some common sense to it.
There wasn’t much common sense in this. I think the difference in it being, you know, Travis Pastrana said the difference between brilliance and stupidity is success. This one is brilliant because it succeeded. Why it worked, I don’t know.
Yeah, at the farm, look, man, we’ve got a hundred days from the time we transplant our plants into the ground until the time we harvest. Those hundred days there’s nothing else in the world that really matters but making that crop.
Q. (Question regarding Chad.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: We played phone tag. I finally answered, so I won phone tag because I answered him.
When I answered, I said, Hey.
He said, So you practiced it in the DIL, right, in the sim?
I was like, No. Why doesn’t anybody believe me? No, I did not.
He was like, I don’t believe it. Like, you had to have. You did it exactly how you needed to.
I was like, Yeah.
I remember the game. He would have been six years old. We’re six years apart. I was 12, he was probably six. I don’t know, somewhere in there playing.
I’m like, No, man, no.
Once we got past that, he just kind of agreed to not believe me. I’m like, Well, got to believe me or not. It’s the truth.
Yeah, we just talked through it. We just talked through the racing of the whole weekend, qualifying, how good that was, then how we were just kind of a 10th-place car. He was asking me about how it handled, how we were shifting and braking. Race car driver stuff after that.
Q. From getting booed during introductions to an electrified crowd, quite a day.
ROSS CHASTAIN: We got booed in intros?
Q. Yes, you were.
ROSS CHASTAIN: No, I don’t think so. I think we had the second most cheers on the day, only behind Clyde over there.
Yeah, to finish that way, though, they were mostly I think cheering at the end. When I got out of the car, it was a roar as I got up out. I set up my helmet, earbuds in, I could feel it in the car, the crowd was going wild. When I got out, it went to another level.
Q. If you hadn’t practiced it, do you think you were just lucky?
ROSS CHASTAIN: There was a lot of luck involved. I’m not going to shy away from that. But I did have it, like, from the time we took the white flag, I had it in my mind. You cannot leave the wall. Once I’m on the backstretch, I have to follow it. It actually has a kick-out or pocket I’ll call it into three than I even thought.
When I hit the wall, I hit it pretty hard on entry, which surprised me. I thought I could have kind of lay into it. When I walked the track on the way out that night, I realized, kind of like Darlington turn three, the wall goes away six or eight inches that I had never noticed before.
Q. What have your emotions been like this week going for your first Cup championship?
ROSS CHASTAIN: A lot of gratitude and just talking to people back home and family, different crew chiefs and crew members that I’ve worked with. Team owners have reached out. Just realizing the journey, thinking back to starting parking at Gateway in 2018, announcing a full-time season out here in Phoenix, to never actually race that car again, and the team get shut down. Just remembering some of those moments when I kind of thought everything was done and over with. Now realizing if I can just go back and tell myself that it’s going to be okay. I don’t think I would have believed myself.
A lot of gratitude this week. Some nerves. Look, this is wild, this is big. Yeah, it’s just another race, but I feel it. I love that I feel it because I’m getting to experience this. I’m going to remember these moments.
Yeah, they’re not pleasant in the exact second and minute to be feeling like you want to throw up, to feel like you have so much anxiety, you’re not doing what you need to be doing to prep.
But experiencing Media Day and feeling the nerves of this, like, is so cool. I feel so fortunate that I get to feel it.
Q. If you could make one change to the Playoff format, what change would it be?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I think they got it nailed pretty good. They got their races where they are in order through trial and error over the years, moving them around. They create big moments. From the Roval to Talladega. The only thing I think they were missing is a road course, just to complete the circle on driving all tracks. Yeah, I think that could be the next final thing we do. I don’t know what track I would pull out.
Q. The road course, not the Roval?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Oh, gee, that’s bad I said that (laughter). Yeah, wow, okay. Forget everything I just said. Forget about the Roval.
Q. Do you remember how you found out, you experimented with this, on a video game?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Not really. You could have, like, full driver assist on with, like, braking automatic, traction control, a medium option, or you could have it all off. If you had it all off, it wouldn’t slow you down.
I remember Chad passing me one day. We just did it. I just remember that I had that memory. Like, we didn’t have a lot of video games where we played with other people. We weren’t, like, online gaming. We just had our Nintendo at home. We didn’t do it a lot.
Honestly, when I got out of the car, Dillon asked why I did that. I was like, The only thing that came to my mind was playing a video game. But I probably did it last when I was 12 years old.
Q. When you talked about feeling everything today, racing for a championship, do you also feel carrying all of Trackhouse, how excited they are to be in this situation? Do you feel that like a weight on your shoulders?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I got to say the weight was a whole lot heavier last year not being in the Playoffs with CGR. That was tough. Come into 42 car, you see what Kyle has done in it, a lot of the same group together. Just couldn’t make it go.
Some of the packages, high power, low downforce, we went a little better. Low power, high downforce last year, I could not go fast. I couldn’t race.
That was a heavier, like, just kicking off the Playoffs on Playoff Media Day last year was a humbling day for me. It was my first points season, full-time season in Cup, I wasn’t there at the Playoff Media Day. I didn’t ever think about Final 4 Media Day. That was a lot heavier. Honestly the success this year, the way Justin and Ty have structured the team, I feel less pressure now than ever.
I had a lot last year, a lot back at Johnny’s, going through all that. Winning races, getting DQ’d, starting parking the year before. That was a lot heavier burden to carry, not knowing what way is forward.
I know now, like, I want to be a Trackhouse driver for a long time. I don’t have a burden to do anything different.
Q. Justin said earlier this week in a way this year has already been a win for everybody. Is this weekend a nothing-to-lose situation or is it championship or nothing for you?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No, there’s a lot to lose.
Look, I want to compete. So to beat 35 other drivers, these three especially, I need to go put forward the best race I can. It’s not like I can just go do whatever and fire it down the corner on lap 10 and hope it sticks, hope I run 2/10ths faster. Not going to be the way we’re going to do this. You’re not going to be successful that way.
Q. You’re not just happy to be here?
ROSS CHASTAIN: The competitor takes over in me. I want to beat these guys. At the end of the day I just want to beat them. That’s why we’re all here, why we all love this, is the competition.
Yeah, I am doing it against some of my heroes. We’ve got everything we need to go beat ’em. No, it’s not just a happy to be here. It’s a race. I’m so dang driven and competitive to beat people that it’s all I want.
Q. I believe that you never practiced it. I’m not sure I believe you that you would say you didn’t try it on the sim this week before Phoenix. Did you give it a go?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No. They asked if I wanted to. I think Daniel tried it. I had no intentions. I had some other guys tell me about how they would have to downshift and do different things.
I’m telling you, man, like, you can lay it into that wall as easy as you want to. You’re still driving a 3,500-pound race car into a steel wall at a high rate of speed. It is not pleasant and not something I want to do just in general.
We will do whatever we have to do if it comes down to it. But, no, I didn’t try it this week. They offered. I don’t think that’s going to be the way you’re going to win this race.
Q. What is it like to change the narrative of your season, the guy who has pissed off half the field, to now somebody who is celebrated for a move?
ROSS CHASTAIN: It feels good because it was a real goal to get it turned back around. We’ve had years before in the Truck Series where we were most popular driver there.
Having that response from the fans was an incredible step in 2019, to not winning for a few years, then coming back and winning Truck and Cup races this year, but bringing a lot of stuff, a lot of baggage with it.
Yeah, it was a real focus to get it turned back around. I don’t want to change who I am. Showing people more who I am has been key. Growing into this.
Look, the guys that were mad at me had guys mad at them 10 years ago, 20 years ago, whatever. I think the good old days get remembered a little better than they actually were. They were probably not as nice and rosy as they all like to try to say their old days were.
Working through it. We’re all human. At the end of the day everybody has an opinion. Some people’s platform carries that a little farther than others. I’m guilty of that too.
Q. You tweeted a screen shot of you on an email thread years ago being a bus driver. Do you ever think about those days?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Absolutely. One, I wish I would have bought that bus when it went up for sale because it would have been a good deal and I could have sold it for a lot more as everything has gone up.
Yeah, that was Spire Sports + Entertainment hiring Brandon or Lawrence McReynolds, my spotter, and me to part-time drive it around. We drove it around with Phillip down to Talladega one time, towed my truck. Ended up sleeping in my truck because we didn’t have a place to stay in the bus and we also couldn’t make it back to Birmingham where the hotel rooms were.
None of us were racing at the time. We were there to hang out. I drove it to Darlington. That email in 2017, then the races later, were part of the beginning bits of getting that 42 Xfinity car ride at CGR. Driving that thing got me noticed by a few people in my fire suit driving for Johnny, getting water put in it, having tanks dumped. Taking groceries in and out were part of bits when they first saw me, asked who I was. The red car, which red car. That was the beginning of it.
It was just kind of a full-circle moment when they sent me to that last night on the plane out here. Just a cool moment, what all that meant, the other people, Brandon, Phillip, Bill, everybody at Spire. We were just friends. Throwing me a bone, a few hundred bucks, a free ride to the track, then I could go stay in a hotel.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Hey, I’m here for it. I don’t know what the ripples of that will be. I think that clip will outlive me in the sport.
Yeah, look, I want to show people, like, we’re pushing these cars to the limits, and sometimes spectacular things happen. Sometimes bad things happen. But we all know the risk. I was fully accepting of the risk of running wide open into a steel wall around a tight corner and whatever happened happened. I had fully accepted that.
What’s wild is I only thought of it 10 seconds earlier, then five seconds later made the decision, then five seconds later, like, acted on it.
I think if they’re going to watch because of that, they’re going to see some great stuff. They’ll dig in and see what the sport is all about, get to know us. I think they’ll be around to stay.
Q. (Question about how to bring home the championship.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Going fast enough. These guys are good. Two of them have been here before. Christopher and I haven’t. Knowing when to race guys early in the race and when is not is something I worked through this year, struggled with at times. Complete confidence that the speed in our car will be there. Qualifying will be a big emphasis for us, with how cool it is, the way these cars are racing this year.
One constant all year is that the Trackhouse cars can pass. Aside from Martinsville where we qualified better than we ever have on short tracks, I don’t think I actually passed anybody all day till I started bulldozing them out of the way at the end of the race.
Yeah, no thoughts other than going fast.
Q. How neat would it be to bring a championship for Brandon?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, look, the McReynolds are a legacy family in this sport. What’s so cool is that I just got to know Brandon McReynolds as a buddy and a competitor really. We were just competitors on track. I’ve wrecked him pretty bad actually, not on purpose, but I cut his tire down at Iowa. Growing through that over the years, like he still owes me one, right? But we’re buddies and friends now. We’ve buried the hatchet on all that.
It’s just cool to get to do it with the people that I want to do it with. A lot of people last year thought we were wild, that Chip hired a rookie crew chief, driver and spotter all for the 42 Alexander Rossi. Justin kept us all together.
We’ve never been in this position to win races. But getting to do it with my group, both at Trackhouse, for sure, keeping my group together, primarily together from the 42 car, then also on the backside of business and my group that I go to day in and day out to keep me accountable, pump me up when they want to or peel me down when they want to. Getting to do it with my group, it means more to see their faces when I get out after Martinsville, see how excited they are.
Q. Any Ross Chastain songs this week?
ROSS CHASTAIN: A couple. Pretty wild. They’re all over from country to I don’t know what you call the other one.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: I guess. I don’t know. I kept clicking on it, waiting for the video to start. It was just a picture of her. It’s wild. I got no words. The Internet is a wild place. I do not really understand it.
Q. When you were driving an RV, did you ever expect to grow into a media darling?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No (laughter). No, not at all. We were just hoping that my pickup truck didn’t come disconnected going down the highway.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports