Q. How are you grasping the way you've become a big name now?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Growing. I have a lot of growing up to do at 30 years old. I feel like I'm just getting started, so... Trying to learn from my mistakes.
Q. What was your reaction to them saying we're going to clamp down and make sure the Hail Melon is not going to be happening in the future?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I'm proud of what it accomplished for us. I'm glad that we were able to do it in a meaningful way in a race that mattered, the life-changing aftermath of going and fighting for a championship and coming up 235 feet short, something I'll always be proud of.
But I'm okay with them not letting us do it anymore.
Q. If you could put your popularity or Q rating on a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think it was before that move and what did it go to after that?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I am incredibly unqualified to answer that question. That would be a question for all of y'all. I'll turn the microphone to y'all.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Not 3 to 9, but more for sure.
Q. Justin Marks said one of the things that he needs to keep an eye on this year is managing expectations because at the end of last year they were sky high among the fans, what Trackhouse can do. How important is it in your mind to kind of keep the expectations managed to a degree that you want success but you could have a better season this year growing as a team?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Well, I think last year, my experience, I had a new car, the unknown of a new car and new team to lean on. I had confidence that my group from the 42 transitioned into Trackhouse in the 1 car was going to be good.
I know I have less confidence right now because this series is so humbling, this sport is so competitive, especially at this level nothing is guaranteed. I feel like I have more work to do now than I did a year ago to sustain what we were able to accomplish last year.
Q. How inspiring is Justin Marks? Whenever you talk to the guy, you want to run through a brick wall for him.
ROSS CHASTAIN: Look, we got done with Phoenix, I took a moment and some days to really try to soak in what just happened, how close we were. I didn't really want to talk about the details much, outside of the competition, what we could do to make our car better.
Justin goes and paints a 235-foot section in front of our shop with '235' painted on the road. Every day I drive in and out I have to drive across that. That's the difference between Joey Logano and us, winning a championship, us losing.
At first I didn't really understand it. The more I drive over it, I grip the wheel a little bit there and it drives me to be better. Justin has that way about him.
We're totally different in that aspect of the way our brains work.
Q. Also the fact he's such a big thinker. He thinks way beyond what a lot of other people think right now what this sport can be like, Trackhouse can be.
ROSS CHASTAIN: I'm along for the ride. I'd rather be on his team than against him, that's for sure, because he's continuing to push us forward as an entire sport.
Q. Daniel Suarez got signed to a multi-year deal with Trackhouse. Can you talk about the status of your contract and have they discussed an extension with you?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, look, Daniel was the first driver of Trackhouse. I've learned a lot from him. I didn't really know him that well going into it. I'm super excited and happy for him.
But I've got nothing on my front to talk about.
Q. What does it mean to you to have Daniel back since you built a relationship and he's done exceptionally well?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, I think for both of us coming out of 2021, him being the first year with Trackhouse, my time at CGR, it's pretty wild what we've been able to accomplish. Two guys they wouldn't have had that on their bingo card, but Justin Marks did.
Coming from me, start-and-park efforts, it's not that long ago in the Truck Series, mid 30s in the Cup Series, just a couple years ago, it's cool to get to do it with another guy like Daniel. We're kind of progressing together.
What's selfishly so cool for me is I'm doing it with my people. That's what really makes it that much more special now that we've accomplished some pretty cool things.
Q. How bad do you want to win at California Speedway? With that being the last time potentially racing there, what would it mean to get that trophy?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, I still hope they change their mind again on that and keep it, build another short track somewhere else or put us in another stadium.
For me, I'll have to narrow in on practice last year and the crash we had off of turn four. It was the biggest of my career, something that, look, I don't mean to be morbid, but I think 20 years ago I don't walk away from it the way I do this time in 2022.
This car saved my life. That track could have taken it all from me. It's not lost on me. I have a respect for this car and a respect for that track. I have a little bit of fear for it, too. I'm glad that I do because it earned my respect real quick that day.
Q. Did you get your bell rung?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Oh, yeah.
Q. A lot of people came out after the fact saying they had concussions.
ROSS CHASTAIN: I'm not qualified at all to speak on the true physical from inside my body what happened. I know that I walked away from that crash, and that car saved my life. I'm forever thankful for that.
That's what makes that track special now, is that mark in turn four, the bump in turn four that I hit which caused me to get loose, overcorrect, turn the wheel too far to the right, lift off the gas, it caught, I hit the wall head on.
I remember it for the fact that I was able to take a second, catch my breath, get checked out, drive the next day. I don't think 20 years ago that happens. I'm so thankful for this car that NASCAR rolled out to provide that for me.
Then it goes deeper into Trackhouse building a safe seat and the seat belts we use; what they recommended I use. The boys and girls at Trackhouse take that stuff serious and get all that stuff measured out exactly to hold me in that seat. That's the reasons I want to go win at California, just selfishly, not necessarily because it's the last race, but for those memories I have there.
Q. What are your thoughts about Kevin Harvick and his career? What sticks out to you?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, well, first I was at his first win. I was in the grandstands. That's a cool memory. I was actually a Gordon fan, so I was rooting for the Rainbow Warrior car. I was convinced my young eyes thought the 24 won. But Kevin won.
So now to be competitors with him, to go to battle with him, fight for wins in the different series, we've been side by side in pretty much a lot of different tracks, a lot of different race cars.
We're racers, so we say things when we get out of the car hot and heated. We think things about each other. At the end of the day you have to look at his body of work, what he's done. That doesn't make it any easier, though, that I want to beat him. Nobody's going to take it easy on him this year. We want to beat him worse now than ever.
Q. As a native Floridian, what does this event mean to the entire state?
ROSS CHASTAIN: It's huge. You come over to this area, any other time than when the events are happening, race weekends, it's a lot easier to get around town.
It's really cool to see hotels full, restaurants full. I can people watch with the best of them. It's so cool to see people just migrating in. This place has more events than just NASCAR. The Daytona 500 is by far the biggest, but hearing or just learning over time from the folks here at Daytona and NASCAR the economic impact of this place on the surrounding areas and economy is just in numbers bigger than I can really grasp.
To think about what it started on as a race half on the beach, half on the highway, growing into what it is now, it's just so cool for me as a fan. Now I get to compete in it, it's even crazier.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: Me and B.J. have. I knew B.J. because he came through the short track late model ranks a few years ahead of me. As he was winning races in super late models, I was not yet racing. When we got into local tracks, we knew B.J.'s name. He was off doing NASCAR truck stuff at the time.
I've went to B.J. for advice a lot over the years. He's been there to help me in a lot of good times and a lot of really bad times as well. We had that natural bonding because we didn't know each other early on but we knew the same people. I've went to him when I had questions.
Q. From an economic impact standpoint, the success of last year, you personally for watermelons, the farming community, have you thought about that? What are the goals or aspirations to impact that?
ROSS CHASTAIN: First and foremost is smash a watermelon on national TV when we win a race. Let's just start there (laughter).
It's just the way. No matter what is going on in the world, sports are an escape for lot of us, me included. If somebody is watching at home, at a restaurant, walking by a TV that's muted, they don't have to know anything about it other than that guy just won and now he's smashing a watermelon. What is that about?
Actually I kind of want a piece of watermelon now. That is the whole goal of that. I'm not shy about it. It's our family's livelihood, it's my family's livelihood. Even if it's not our watermelon, a rising tide raises all ships.
Shining a bright light on agriculture, how there is such a small percentage of this world's population in charge for feeding all of us is something I could use as a platform to talk about now.
Getting into more of the details, there's a lot left to be desired on my side from how I can truly help ag, more on the ground floor of in the fields, get my hands dirty with some programs, then just getting food to the people that need it.
There are people not too far from us right now at Daytona International Speedway that might be hungry. There are things that I can do to help that. So we're working through some of that now to just get food to the people that need it.
Q. Branding the watermelon as the official produce of winners?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Hey, that's a good slogan. We can put a slogan on anything in NASCAR. You don't have that trademarked yet?
Q. Not yet.
ROSS CHASTAIN: I might beat you to it (laughter).
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: B.J. McLeod is a winner. He's a bad ass. He is. He physically is, but he can drive a race car.
I have spent probably just as much time racing with him in the 30s, 30th-place position in the Cup Series, as I have racing up front with the guys that are winning races.
I've got a unique perspective of B.J. both knowing of his name growing up as a guy that had won races a couple years before I got into each class, but just knowing him as the good guy.
He looks so bad to the bone, but he's the nicest. I think he's the nicest Cup Series drivers we've got in the garage.
Q. How are the family farms? The fall was rough for a lot of people.
ROSS CHASTAIN: The fall, my uncle and cousins, they lost their fall crop in the hurricane. Spring is good. Everything is growing like crazy. We've got good water and good dirt. A little good weather to go with it, we'll be okay.
Q. In a good year, how many watermelons does the family produce?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, so we don't count 'em individually, but we grow about 400 acres. That's one crop a year.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: It is. We already started looking at walls at all different kinds of tracks. Daniel, I don't mean to specify Daniel, but drivers tried it for Phoenix in the simulators. I never did any of that. I got pretty lucky that it worked, I'll be honest.
I'm proud of me having the idea. I'm glad that my brain thinks that way. I'm glad that I thought about it off turn four and I acted on it in turn three coming back around that lap.
Yeah, I'm glad we don't have to do it. We were already looking at the Clash at the Coliseum.
Q. Would it work here?
ROSS CHASTAIN: We'll never know, right? That's the beauty of it. I'm the only guy that gets to say they did it successfully. Let's not forget, though, that I watched some other competitors try it in recent years, and I learned from them.
Q. In 25 years, NASCAR will be a hundred. That move will probably be replayed 25 years from now. To know it's that historic, how do you feel about that?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, it still doesn't seem real. I hope in 25 years they can get the video cleaned up where it doesn't look like a really bad, like, edit. It looks like I got edited in. Hopefully.
Yeah, I watch it and it still doesn't seem real.
Q. What are you trying to get out of Thursday?
ROSS CHASTAIN: So the cars I believe are going to be hard to drive in the Duels. Probably harder because we're coming out of qualifying with no practice at all. We want them to qualify good, so we want them right down next to the ground. When we go faster in the draft, they're going to hit the ground harder, bounce around. It's up to Phil Surgen and my smart boys and girls at Trackhouse to make my car good in both.
We've definitely put an effort into qualifying. We want to qualify good, then we'll work on our race trim Friday and Saturday.
Q. Why the effort? You're getting two spots in. It can help you for the Duels.
ROSS CHASTAIN: Pride, man. We eat, sleep and breathe just beating other people. We're proud when we do it.
It's been so cool to watch my crew massage on these race cars knowing that every other race team in the series has the same car, but I have no doubt that my guys, they're working harder, and they're continuing to push forward to make my car faster.
As a racer, that's all we want, we just want to go fast. Yeah, there's really no perks when you step back and look at it. Probably be smarter to build a nice, good-handling race car, but we want it to go fast. It's going to feel good in a few hours here, whenever I pull here on track, and it does go fast.
Q. (Question about contract.)
ROSS CHASTAIN: I get a two-year deal and we all ask about it after the first year (laughter).
Look, Daniel is the first driver at Trackhouse. He's the guy that started it. So following in his footsteps would be an honor. But super happy for him. Today is for him, and I've got nothing to say for me.
Q. Conversations on the way yet?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Today is all about Daniel, man. It's all about him. It's crazy that I can now step back and look at that in a way. It's pre-season. Everybody's friends with everybody right now. Give us a few races, I might not be saying such nice things about Daniel (laughter).
It's just so cool to see our two paths, although they're so different, we're from two separate countries, but to come together at Trackhouse, to be able to push each other the way we have, he pushes me a lot of ways. Seeing him get this deal done, it's so cool as a racer to actually root for somebody else. I haven't always had that mentality in my career.
Q. Was your team against his team in the paint ball?
ROSS CHASTAIN: It was not. We named two team captains. One of my engineers, his was one of his mechanics, that don't like to speak in front of people, don't like to be in the spotlight. We purposely pushed them into the spotlight, made them build up their teams. It was a mix of all the road crews from pit crews, mechanics and engineers that travel every week.
I was able to shoot my engineer with a paint ball gun and it felt so good. I also got bruises on my legs when I was pinned down on the ground in the corner by my engine tuner Harry. I got to shoot Michael, and Harry Holcomb got to light me up. It was not 1 versus 99, it was a lot of vendettas enacted on and we were able to let out a lot of anger with each other.
Q. Where was that?
ROSS CHASTAIN: East of Charlotte. Over in the country somewhere. I didn't know the town name we were in. There wasn't much around.
But there was a lot of paint ball, plenty of CO2, we burned through some paint. It was a lot of fun. We were covered in mud. It was really wet and muddy, but we brought like war paint. We had our faces painted.
I had forgot, I actually should wear padded clothes, thick sweatpants. I wore thin jogging pants, super thin. They went right through. I had bruises all over.
I think more people were looking for me than I was looking for other people. They got some of their anger out on me. It was so cool.
Q. What is the challenge this year to not step back, to try to fulfill the expectations?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Look, last year was the arrival of Trackhouse, Daniel and myself. I had a new car and a new team to lean on for kind of the unknown and be confident in the unknown, that we would come out strong. But we didn't know.
I honestly feel less confident sitting here today than I did one year ago. I know that might sound odd, it's something I've been working through with my coaches. I feel like there's more things I need to do to be better to sustain what we arrived last year and did.
It's really not something that we're just going to stay here because we had success last year. This series and this sport is really humbling. There's only one winner every week and a lot more losers.
I have more desire inside to prove to myself that I can sustain this for a long time than I did last year. I know I had more confidence last year.
Q. What would constitute a successful season in your eyes?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Be competitive. Probably six or seven years ago I quit putting numbers on my goals. I write them down, but I just leave out the numbers and the top fives and the wins and stuff. It's really just real simple: it's just be competitive. It's about the pride. It goes back to qualifying night. Why does it matter? Because we want to be the best.
Q. Denny Hamlin was miffed about what happened at the Clash. Mentioned it in a podcast. Do you have any comment?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I haven't listened to the podcast.
Q. Said he got hit by the 1. No big surprise there. He was sarcastic about it.
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, I didn't listen to it, so I'm not sure.
Q. Back to the confidence. Do you feel that would have gone down at all if you scored a win during the Playoffs? It's been since Talladega that you've been to Victory Lane. Does that matter?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I'm not confident in our ability. We put ourselves in position to win a lot of races last year. The lack of confidence is that I might not be good enough, that I might not be able to execute when it comes time.
Continuing to be the best race car driver I can be is where I work to build that confidence back up. It's not really a numerical value of race finish or anything. It's just can I execute when it matters.
Q. Is that something you've always dealt with, Truck, Xfinity, smaller teams?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No. I think I was more confident years ago coming up. In my Cup career since 2017, I was really not confident the first race, and then I was really confident for the second. I finished 20th in the first and I finished last in the second one.
You kind of go forward to bigger groups of time, and I would say when I was running a consistent 33rd place or 30th place in Cup, I was more confident than I was winning races last year because I didn't know what I didn't know. I didn't know how hard it was really going to be.
I could see it and I thought I would just make that move or I would go inside or I would go to the top or I would have my car handle a certain way when I was in 30th. Now that I'm up there in the top half of the field, it's harder than I ever could have imagined.
Q. Does the success of the 1 team overshadow to a lot of people what the 99 team was able to do last year?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I don't think so. I think we look at it as Trackhouse. We look at it as what we were able to do together.
I think Martinsville and the championship definitely stand out. Other than that, the raw speed, the 1 and 99 were really similar.
So funny because Daniel is such a good qualifier, he can just put together a lap, go extract so much out of the car, that a lot of times I was just chasing him for qualifying. I realized part way through the season that's my benchmark.
At some of the road courses it would be within 2/10ths of a second. That might seem like a not or might not. I know at Sonoma we were within thousandths of each other. Felt so accomplished I was able to put together a lap at Sonoma where tires were out second round and we were able to qualify right next to each other. Ultimately he goes on and wins it.
Q. Kevin Harvick, his final year, what has your relationship with him been like, what have his contributions to the sport been?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Checkered I guess we could say for him and I.
Back up a little bit. I was at his first win at Atlanta. I was a Gordon fan, so I was rooting for the 24. You fast forward, running at Darlington, that's my first time really getting to know him. I knew of him. He knew of me I think. Probably seen me around. I obviously knew who he was.
You go forward from Darlington; I've never been so happy that a legend in our sport was wrong in what he said after the race.
I went to him at times for advice more than people will ever know. He's just an under-the-radar guy that helps us. We can bond about a little Ron Hornaday story, too, both living the Hornaday life for a while in our younger years.
Ron taught me a lot, would reference Kevin a lot, things he had made mistakes in, things he did right and wrong. So I learned a lot from Ron, as well, which is a big part of molding Kevin.
Q. How is your relationship with Kevin now?
ROSS CHASTAIN: It's really good, yeah. Ever since I lived with Ron, it's helped. Then once we got through the Darlington stuff, it was better.
Q. When did you live with Ron?
ROSS CHASTAIN: 2013. 10 years ago, yeah.
Q. You had a place on the couch?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No, he gave me a room. I think everybody had a full bedroom. I don't buy into the couch thing. The house is massive. Nobody was sleeping on no couch. There was beds. I was in the fish room.