20. Ross Chastain

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  • Ross Chastain
    American stock car racing driver
  • Daniel Suarez
    Mexican racing driver

Winning races is the goal of all NASCAR drivers, but one must imagine a close second comes from the accolades of their peers. Ross Chastain has not yet won, but in 2021 praise was heaped on him for the three top-fives he earned. Kind words from analysts centered on his balance of aggression and skill, which is the most necessary trait for success.

Chastain's career has been a rollercoaster. It's not exactly a bootstraps story since his family are successful farmers more than capable of keeping his dream alive, but in mostly moderately-funded rides early in his career, he has had to work his way up the ladder. Now, his current team, Trackhouse Racing, is one that will be watched with interest after purchasing the assets of Chip Ganassi Racing.

It is notable that the team held onto Chastain to team with Daniel Suarez and let Kurt Busch seek a new ride. Car owners Justin Marks and Armando Pérez, a.k.a. Pitbull, are betting that youth and enthusiasm will be able to hold their own against age and experience with the newly designed Next Gen car. Their enthusiasm is not without merit.

Chastain had a pivotal year in 2021. This was the first time he raced for points in the Cup series and his 20th-place in the standings was only half the story. He did not make the playoffs, but he his three top-fives were impressive nonetheless – and since he finished second to the most dominant driver in the field at Nashville Superspeedway, he could be considered "best-in-class" for that race. In that event, his new teammate Suarez also finished among the top 10.

Chastain's other two top-fives were equally impressive. He finished third on the "Too Tough to Tame" Darlington Raceway for another rough-surfaced milestone. He showed amazing car control in the rain at the Circuit of the Americas to finish fourth.

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Unfortunately, the theme of 2021 was the above-mentioned rollercoaster ride. His eight top-10 finishes were offset by 10 results outside the top 25. Six of these were marred by accidents, but that happens when a driver races on the edge. Ultimately his 2022 tally will come down to how hard the team rides the whip. When expectations are too high, Chastain has been known to step over the line.

One should look at Suarez's record last year for some guidance in how the team dynamic might play out. Suarez is a much less aggressive driver than many in the field, but his intensity picked up near the end of the season. It has not gone unnoticed that he refused to be pushed around by playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. during the final 10 races and there was a lesson to be learned from that incident. In previous seasons, Suarez might have backed off and let Truex have the spot. Instead, he held his ground as the No. 19 clipped the front nose of the No. 99. Without being overly aggressive, Suarez found the fine line.

Based on his time in the Truck and Xfinity Series, Chastain has no problem being aggressive. When he is in contention for a spot, his fans know that he will press the envelope as far as possible. That has not been much of an issue while racing in the middle of the pack, but once he is closer to the lead with increased regularity, he will have a decision to make about the longevity of his strategy.

For now, we expect pretty much the same record in 2022 as Chastain earned in 2021. Those top-fives are important because that is where bettors are going to find the most attractive odds. It's notable that two of his top-fives came on rough-surfaced tracks, so watch him closely at Darlington and Nashville.

Equally interesting is that three of his top-10s and a 12th came on road courses. If the traders undervalue him on the twisty tracks, he could be a solid value proposition.

From a fantasy standpoint, Chastain finished better than he started 22 times last year; 12 of these races earned 10 or more place-differential points.

Three Best Tracks *
Daytona (18.1 in 7 attempts)
New Hampshire (19.3 in 3)
Darlington (20.6 in 5)

Three Worst Tracks *
Michigan (31.3 in 4)
Charlotte oval (29.5 in 4)
Pocono (29.3 in 6)

2021 Stats
Victories: None (Best finish: second, Nashville)
Top-fives: 3 (.083)
Top-10s: 8 (.222)
Top-15s: 17 (.472)
Top-20s: 22 (.611)

2021 Finishes at or above rank = 22 (61.1%)

* Active tracks with three or more starts

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