A winter’s worth of letdown compounded by the rigors of an unlikely climb unfurled from Ross Chastain in a burst of ecstasy. The jubilant scream. The skyward uppercuts. The throw of the Gander Outdoors prop box. All through a shower of blue and white confetti.
Chastain was supposed to drive full-time for Chip Ganassi in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season, then a fallout with DC Solar — Chastain’s backbone sponsor — sent racing’s most famous watermelon farmer back to journeyman mode.
On Friday in Kansas City, though, the grind paid off, even if it was only for a night. Chastain took advantage of Stewart Friesen’s fuel shortage with three laps left in the Digital Ally 200 at Kansas Speedway to win his first career Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. It’s also Al Niece’s first win as an owner.
Before the season, Niece Motorsports went a combined 72 races without a top-five. Now, behind Chastain’s unwavering effort, they are NASCAR National Series winners.
“This is what sports is all about. Comebacks, man,” Chastain said in Victory Lane. “We had the rope by the tail last fall, then everything got taken away from us.”
“I’m going to celebrate this one more I did the last one,” Chastain added. “It’s so hard to win. We finally got it. … I love all these guys.”
Chastain led just five laps, including the three most important ones at the end, as the watermelon farmer and his No. 45 Silverado took advantage of many late-race errors to position themselves for victory.
Friesen, who led a race-high 87 laps, seemed destined for his first Truck Series victory, then a miscommunication foiled it all. On a green-flag pitstop with 42 laps to go, Friesen left his pit box early, after his team changed two tires instead of the intended four. That meant his crew was not able to put enough fuel in Friesen’s truck for him to finish the race.
With 29 laps remaining, Brett Moffitt and Grant Enfinger wrecked amid a fierce battle for second.
A few laps before Moffitt and Enfinger tangled, Chastain had a close call of his own when he got back into the throttle in a tad too soon and nearly spun the truck around coming off Turn 2.
By the time the race restarted with 22 laps left, Chastain found himself in second, and with three circuits remaining, Friesen ran dry.
Chastain motored by and held off a hard-charging Ben Rhodes for his second career NASCAR National Series win. His first came last fall at Las Vegas with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series.
Rhodes held on to second, while Todd Gilliland, Austin Hill, and Brandon Jones rounded out the top five. Pole-sitter Matt Crafton came sixth. Moffitt, Riley Herbst, and Harrison Burton comprised the top 10.