Finally, the Watermelon Man’s time has come! It’s taken much longer than it should have, but this is the unfortunate life of a lot of NASCAR drivers. Chastain has been running with the worst equipment NASCAR has had to offer for years in every series. After making terrible teams look less than terrible, Chastain got his shot in decent equipment decently and it has led to him being given a chance at Chip Ganassi Racing.

This opportunity came from an odd situation with the Kyle Larson debacle. Larson’s departure leaves both Chip Ganassi and Ross Chastain in an weird spot. CGR had to replace their star driver- who they might’ve lost at the end of the year anyway – and Chastain must follow behind a generational talent in the sport.

In 2020, Chastain is coming off a Xfinity season where he didn’t win but he ended up with 15 top fives and 27 tops tens with an average finish of 8th.  Last season he had his usual polarizing moments like taking out A.J. Allmendinger to try and win only to wreck himself. He’s a talented wildcard driver, but his driving style leads to some foleys.

He always takes bad equipment and makes it better, not good or even average, but better. That’s a telling sign of a driver’s talent and while I don’t think he’s on Kyle Larson’s level, but at the same time we have never been able to get a full gauge of his abilities as a driver.

I’m a victim of the moment with Chastain. Prior to 2020, I would’ve told you that he had just as much talent as anyone in the field. His 2020 run was so disjointed and while that’s probably harsh for a guy who hardly ever finished outside the top 10, his inability to get a win in 2020 is concerning to me. Being a consistent winner in the Xfinity series is usually a prerequisite for getting a Cup ride. 

It’s concerning that his 21-year old teammate, Justin Haley scored 3 wins and finished 3rd in the championship standings. So, while I think he deserves this shot, my expectations are much lower.

Best-case scenario:

Wins: 1

Top Fives: 4

Top Tens: 15

Average Finish: 18th

Worst-case scenario:

Wins: 0

Top Fives: 2

Top Tens: 10

Average Finish: 20th

Chastain is still a talented and hungry veteran, and that will get him solid finishes. I’d give him a good chance at showing up at certain times in the season and proving what he’s capable of no matter what. His experience is going to give him a chance to win his first year at CGR, but I think even then he’s going to be a fringe playoff guy for a couple of seasons.

This is an opportunity of a lifetime for him, and I’m confident he is capable of winning races in Cup and being a consistent playoff driver. Whether or not he’s a championship caliber driver is still to be determined.

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