800 Miles to Go

May 12, 2023

For the first time this season, the Trackhouse NASCAR Cup Series driver from Alva, Florida will be pulling triple duty at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval.

It starts with Friday night’s Buckle Up South Carolina 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, when Chastain returns to Niece Motorsports in the team’s No. 41 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado for 200-miles of white-knuckle, stand-up-in-the-seat action around the demanding track.

On Saturday, May 13, Chastain will compete in the Shriner’s Childrens 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race in the No. 91 DGM Racing Chevrolet with Mario Gosselin as the crew chief.

That’s 400 miles in less than 24 hours for Chastain.

But he’s only halfway home.

It all culminates with Sunday’s Goodyear 400 NASCAR Cup Series race in the No. 1 Trackhouse Chevrolet Camaro.

As part of NASCAR’s “Throwback Weekend” Chastain’s No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet will sort the famed UPS livery in honor of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

“I don’t discount the challenge,” Chastain said. “It will be challenging, but I’m prepared for it. We put together this plan late last year with the desire to run a ‘Triple’ again. I did it several years ago for several years for a lot of weekends and to do it again now at this level of Cup, is great.

“I love that I get to drive for Mario Gosselin, and I love that I get to drive for Al Niece and Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series with Carson Hocevar winning.

“It’s going to be challenging physically and mentally, too. It’s going to be tough to keep them separate and communicate what I need to, to all the crew chiefs. We are laying out a plan to all three teams so that I can be the best version that I can be.”

Chastain is prepared both physically and mentally for the weekend of dizzying action at Darlington, but he emphasized which race he places on top.

“Cup is priority,” he said. “Everything revolves around the No. 1 car. I went to Justin Marks (Trackhouse owner) and our leadership at Trackhouse and pitched them on this idea that a couple of times, I might try to run three races the same weekend and they gave me their blessing. If I felt I was ready for it, they would allow it.

“Together with the Chevrolet program and Josh Wise, our driver coach, we built out a plan last year and are working through that process to be ready this weekend to run all three.

“The easiest thing I can do is eat Watermelons because 92 percent water is going to keep me hydrated better than anything else.”

Of course, Chastain is the “Watermelon Farmer” from Alma, Florida and plans to have a Florida-grown watermelon on standby if he should win any of the three races this weekend.

Since the end of March, most of the watermelons that are available in the United States are grown in Florida. Watermelons from Georgia are starting to come into season, but Chastain will stay true to his Florida roots.

South Carolina, however, is a state known for its peaches, especially in the Pee Dee area of the state that includes Darlington and the nearby South Carolina communities of Florence, Hartsville and McBee.

I’m an equal fruit ambassador,” Chastain said. “I’m partial to Watermelons, eighth generation farmer of exclusively Watermelons, but I stop on the way to Darlington every year at some of those farm stands and grab a basket of peaches.

“You can’t beat them.”

There is a performance reason why Chastain plans on increasing his Watermelon intake for Darlington.

“Hydration is key,” he explained. “We’re sitting there baking at over 120 degrees, upwards of 130 degrees at sometimes and the seats are hot. It’s fluids. I live a life that revolves around sitting in race cars and racing and we up the game that week.”

Chastain has been preparing for triple duty for several months both through physical workouts and getting mentally prepared.

He came up with a plan, discussed it with Marks and Trackhouse President Ty Norris and worked with Josh Wise to prepare to put that plan into action.

“This week will not be about working out hard or running more miles or biking more miles; it’s about having this plan for months and now we put it into action to let the physical side take over,” Chastain explained. “Mentally will be the most challenging part if everything goes somewhat normal to stay in tune with how the truck handles, then getting in the Xfinity car and having to qualify, then practice the Cup car, then race in Truck. There are a lot of miss-matched schedules.

“As simple as the truck and Xfinity car has the standard H-pattern shifter, something NASCAR has raced with for 74 years, now in Cup we have the sequential shift, where upshifting is pulling back, and downshifting is straight forward. It’s easy to do that the wrong way. I’ve seen some of my competitors do it.

“I have a muscle memory regimen that I go through weekly to make sure my hand doesn’t pull the wrong way on an upshift and put it in the wrong gear.”

There are major differences between the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series vehicles, the Xfinity cars, and the Next Gen NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, but Chastain believes he can learn something from the first two race that will help him in Sunday’s Cup race.

“Darlington is a unique track,” Chastain explained. “We were out filming a public service commercial with the show car on the frontstretch at Darlington. We loaded it up and I eased into Turn 1 and up on the banking with the show car trailer and the Chevrolet Suburban and ran a lap at 40 miles an hour to reimagine what it is like to run a lap at Darlington Raceway.

“We do a lot of simulator work, but there is nothing like driving. Although I’m in a Suburban with a trailer, seeing the wall and the nuances, it brought back memories of racing there and thoughts of how I’m going to prepare.

“The track is so unique. Finding all the little crevices, a lot like a dirt track. It’s keeping up with the track throughout the weekend, how it takes rubber, how the apron is, how the wall is. It’s experiencing race cars.

“There is nothing I can do to be a better race car driver than racing.”

This weekend is special for NASCAR as the 75 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary will be recognized and honored all weekend. Chastain hopes to add his name to that impressive list 25 years from now for NASCAR’s 100thAnniversary.

Herschel McGriff, 95, is the highest-finishing driver from the first Southern 500 who is still alive. McGriff will be attending the race.

This is also the 20th anniversary of Ricky Craven’s fender-banging victory over Kurt Busch by just 0.002-of-a-second in 2003 – the closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history since telemetry began to be used to measure margin of victory.

Chastain intends to create a little history of his own this weekend at Darlington Raceway and he’s only got “800 Miles To Go.”

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