ROSS, TALK ABOUT THE HONOR OF BEING ABLE TO RUN THE CLASSIC DALE JARRETT PAINT SCHEME ON THE ‘TRACK TOO TOUGH TO TAME’?
“Yeah, it’s all sinking in right now just walking in. And I’m going to do it – I’ve known Mr. Jarrett for a few years. He doesn’t like me to call him that, but I have. In passing in the garage and talking on the phone – he called me after my first Cup win and we talked for a little bit that night. But then walking up here and knowing that we’re walking up here to do something together, it’s just absolutely incredible. I can’t even think about what it’s going to feel like pulling out on the track in that car yet.”
YOU SAID YESTERDAY YOU DON’T WANT TO BE FIGHTING, BUT I’M CURIOUS, WHAT’S THE TRIGGER POINT? WHAT’S THE POINT WHERE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO TAKE THINGS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS?
“I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what that would be. It’s more just in the moment – living and reacting. But knowing this is big-time auto racing, this is not hockey. I standby last week what happened. I’m not saying that every time in a little bit different situation it’s going to react like that. I want to talk to guys and have conversations, but last week was too far.”
YOU SAID THAT YOU AND NOAH (GRAGSON) TALKED IT OUT MONDAY A LITTLE BIT. CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH THAT? DID YOU APPROACH HIM OR DID HE APPROACH YOU, AND WHAT WAS THAT CONVERSATION LIKE?
“Yeah, he called me Sunday night. I was still in the garage and I didn’t feel like I had the bandwidth to think about it or talk about it. I was just happy we got out of there with a top-five and was ready to get home. I called him back Monday. I was heading up to Hickory to run a late model stock. I’m kind of doing a lot of this racing stuff backwards and now I’m driving a late model stock at Hickory for the first time. So I called him on my way up there. We talked for a little while and was in a really good place. And then we both went to Millbridge Monday night and with the Chevy program; we ran micros and had a blast. Just bonded over fast, little sprint cars. It was good – just laughing and joking, and we’ve been good at the gym all week.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT LEADING THE POINTS AT THIS PARTICULAR POINT OF THE SEASON? HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS REGULAR-SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP TO YOU, AND IS IT MORE IMPORTANT NOW TO HAVE THE BONUS POINTS WITH THE FACT YOU HAVEN’T WON YET?
“Yeah, look I’ll always take one more point than one less. In today’s world, you’re just trying to grab as many points as you can. I missed out on a really big opportunity last week by not staying out for that Stage Two late restart that the No. 22 (Joey Logano) ended up winning. That would have been an – execute on the restart, win the stage and then reset only a couple spots back. Phil Surgen (crew chief) made the call to stay out and to do that. I saw how many people were pitting and I decided to pit. So those little things, I just look at it as I missed 10 points right there. But everybody is missing chunks of points every stage and every race.
I think it’s big. It’s so crazy to think we’re leading the points. But then again, it’s not. We belong there and we belong to be parked at the front of the garage. I’ve been here for the spring Darlington race and parked second from last, so it’s pretty wild to walk down that same line. I still caught myself yesterday coming in ahead of the Truck race and Cup tech and just walking, purposely, from this end to that end to just look at it. I still take these moments to try to realize what all of this is. This isn’t always going to be the case. We’re not always, for the rest of time, we’re not going to be the Cup Series points leader, so some special times right now. If we keep running like this, I fully believe the wins will come.”
ARE YOU FEELING THE PRESSURE? I WAS LISTENING TO THE PODCAST OF KYLE LARSON WITH BRAD SWEET AND HE SAID – ROSS CHASTAIN OWNS IT AND HE SAID HE’S MOVING THE NEEDLE AND THAT HE MAY END UP BEING MORE POPULAR THAN CHASE ELLIOTT. ARE YOU FEELING THE PRESSURE FROM OUTSIDE?
“There’s two things, right? There’s on the track and off. And on the track, I am. I’m comfortable making these guys uncomfortable and that’s not always going to come across well, but I’m OK. Get out of the car and I’m learning to become comfortable in this role. I’m not the guy that grew up wanting to be on camera. I wanted to be like my dad – I wanted to farm watermelons. I wanted to be like all the other guys in our town that we knew and I grew up around. I wanted to drive my three-quarter ton diesel truck to the farm; work, grow a crop and go home. Out there in the field, you can go all day and never see anybody if you want to. Everybody thinks about Florida and beaches, but you come inland where we’re at and there’s nobody out there. It’s something I’m growing into off the track. Sometimes I’ll get on camera and I see it when I watch it back – I’ll kind of bring my draw in and protect, in my mind.
But just being myself is the best thing I can do and if people like it, they do. I’d say last night at the Truck race, it was maybe 70/30, cheers to boos. I’m interested to see what Sunday is. But no matter what, I’m proud to be moving the needle. I hear it, I see it. People come to me, either online or in person, and they’re telling me the good and the bad, and I kind of just walk away and I’m like – that’s pretty wild that they’re watching my racing and they care that much. I’m learning to become comfortable in that role, too.”