Why Ross Chastain was surprised his first NASCAR Cup win came at COTA, a road course (2024)

Mike OrganNashville Tennessean

Ross Chastain could probably teach a class on what it takes for a NASCAR driver to do well at the Circuit of The Americas. He has a win and three top five finishes there.

But it wasn’t that long ago when Chastain actually took a class to learn about all the twists and turns on the 3.41-mile road course located in Austin, Texas.

In 2021, Chastain, 31, signed up for the Skip Barber Racing School class on COTA because he was so unfamiliar with the layout and other details about the course.

"A month before the 2021 COTA I went to Skip Barber's school to learn how many turns there were," Chastain said. "I didn't even know where COTA was at in the country.

"I had to ask where it was and they said it was in Austin. I'd been to Austin, but didn't know where it was exactly. They taught me it was 20 turns and how to get around there. It's pretty wild to think back to that."

NASCAR returns to COTA Sunday (2 p.m. CT) for the sixth Cup race of the 2024 season. Chastain, a Trackhouse Racing driver, has one top-five and three top-10 finishes this season, but is still looking for his first win.

Ross Chastain's first NASCAR Cup win was at COTA

Ross Chastain's NASCAR Cup Series career took off when he won at COTA in 2022 relying on an aggressive driving style that has come to anger many his competitors.

In that race Chastain hit AJ Allmendinger sending Allmendinger into Alex Bowman on the final lap during an overtime shootout to take the checkered flag in hisNo. 1 Chevrolet Camaro.

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Chastain's life hasn't been the same since that win.

"Oh gosh, it's hard to put into words honestly how much things have changed for me since then," Chastain said. "It's something that can never be taken way. It's truly been indescribable. But all the work to get there − the days, weeks months and years − were all worth it when we were able to win that race."

Chastain, who made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2017, said he never would have imagined his first win would come on a road course.

"No way could I see a road race being my first win," he said. "I'm glad it was, but I certainly did not expect it."

Why Ryan Blaney and other drivers don't like Ross Chastain

AJ Allmendinger wasn't happy with Chastain after Chastain bumped him out of the way in 2022 at COTA and said so after the race.

Allmendinger had to get in line behind a throng of other drivers who have complained about Chastain's driving style.

Just last week a frustrated Ryan Blaney refused to answer reporters' questions after Chastain bumped and wrecked him at Bristol.

"I'm tired or you asking me Ross questions," Blaney said. "No thanks."

Chastain established himself as combative driver in 2015 when Ryan Reed claimed Chastain ran him into the wall in an Xfinity race.

Since then Chastain has tangled on and off the track with Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Noah Gragson and Justin Allgaier to name a few.

Before the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway last summer Trackhouse president Ty Norris was asked for his thoughts about Chastain's bad boy image? Not only was Norris not bothered, he said he hoped to see more of the same from Chastain.

"Ross is a driver that has become comfortable making other drivers uncomfortable," Norris told The Tennessean. "That means he doesn't mind going three wide, he doesn't mind going up against the wall, he doesn't mind poking his nose in there when he wants the space and quite honestly I wish we had 40 of them. I think the industry has missed some of that aggression to the point where we're afraid to upset people."

Chastain went on to win the Ally 400, picking up his third Cup victory.

When asked this week about his relationship with the circuit's other drivers, Chastain said, "I could always do stuff better, probably. I believe that. I'm not the same driver today that I was when I won at Nashville. I've continued to learn and evolve. That would probably be a better question for other people than for me."

Why Ross Chastain is called the Watermelon Man

Before his racing days Chastain was an eighth-generation watermelon farmer in his hometown in Alva, Florida.

He was nicknamed "The Watermelon Man" and "Melon Man" after winning an Xfinity race at Las Vegas in 2018 after smashing a watermelon from the top of his car to celebrate. He's done the same thing after every win since.

"My family − dad, brother, cousins, aunts and uncles − are the watermelon farmers," Chastain said. "My job now is to talk about them, to promote agriculture. To use my platform for good and tell people the good the farmers are doing."

Trackhouse built a special case with an artificial turf base for a watermelon to be carried to each of Chastain's races.

"We take a watermelon everywhere as a badge of honor," Chastain said. "We replace it if we don't win and eat it if we do. After we smash it."

Why Ross Chastain was surprised his first NASCAR Cup win came at COTA, a road course (2024)
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