As the playoffs kick off this weekend, Ross Chastain can‘t afford to lose sight of his season-long goal: the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. It‘s just seven races away now.
On Monday, however, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Chastain will take over its No. 42 Chevrolet for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
“I don‘t know, if I‘m being honest, that I can truthfully say right now or throughout the week it‘s not a little bit of a distraction,” Chastain said Tuesday during the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs Media Day. “There‘s more eyeballs. There‘s more talk in and around us.
“But I know this group — the 10 and 11 teams at Kaulig Racing — is 100 percent committed to these seven races.”
Chastain qualified for the postseason on the basis of points. He‘s the eighth seed with 10 bonus points, and teammate Justin Haley in the No. 11 Kaulig car sits sixth. Four of the 12 drivers will be cut after the opening Round of 12, meaning Chastain currently sits in the hot spot.
The No. 10 Chevrolet has yet to make it to Victory Lane. Instead, Chastain has 13 top-five and 23 top-10 performances — good for a 7.9 average finish.
“Narrowing in on this Xfinity Series run with the 42 car out in front of us, I‘m staring down the barrel of a championship run with this 10 team that is unlike anything I‘ve ever experienced,” Chastain said. “I was able to experience a lot last year with Niece Motorsports and our championship run, but it wasn‘t building. We didn‘t have the mentality that we‘re building for Phoenix all year. It came late. … This has been methodical, planned out over the course of the year to build a notebook to be ready for Phoenix. That‘s all I can focus on right now. Next year will happen in due time.”
In 2019, Chastain ran the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet full time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series to a runner-up showing in the final standings. He was part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In 19 starts — six of which were with Kaulig Racing — he won one race and tallied two top fives and five top 10s.
As someone who normally tries to race in as many national-series events as he can — he tallied 77 races last year — Chastain hopes he can still get seat time with Kaulig Racing in 2021.
“It‘s not lost on me what this team has done,” Chastain said. “Without this team, I don‘t know that I get the nod back with Chip and the 42 car to be honest.”
Matt Kenseth drives the No. 42 entry right now, but he was signed as a fill-in after Chip Ganassi Racing ended its relationship with Kyle Larson during NASCAR‘s COVID-19 shutdown earlier this season. The car needed a new driver for next year, and Chastain already had a relationship with Ganassi.
But, as Chastain said, he‘s not fully thinking about 2021 yet. There are things he needs to see through first.
Chastain‘s 2020 title pursuit continues Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the Alsco 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Just be the best I can inside that 10 car this weekend on Saturday, that‘s all I can do,” Chastain said. “The best part about being a race-car driver is when I put my Bell helmet on and I latch that chin strap, it changes. It changes me, it changes my mentality. There‘s nothing else in the world that matters.”