(Via Sean Garndner/Getty Images)
Ross Chastain is a real easy guy to root for. He picked up racing the same way a lot of fans got into racing: he just thought it looked cool. He has a charming background, being a watermelon farmer before deciding to race full-time. He's been in the National Series for nearly a decade, and he's one of the unluckiest drivers in recent NASCAR history.
The Melon Man, as he's called, would start racing in lower series, such as late models, on dirt, until he got his first call-up to NASCAR in 2011 at the age of 18. He'd be consistently in NASCAR national series ever since, putting up some pretty decent stats while with SS-Green Light Racing in 2012. Yes, in a vacuum only one top 5 and four top 10s in 22 races isn't that good, but at the same time, he was only 19, and the team was so underfunded they forced to start and park during multiple races to save money. He bolted to join Brad Keselowski's Trucks team on a part-time basis in 2013. Although he ran part-time in the Truck Series again in 2014, he set his sights on something bigger: the Xfinity Series.
Chastain would replace Jeffrey Earnhardt for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series 4 car for 2015. His season was alright for his first full-time season in Xfinity, recording four top 10s. He'd attempt to qualify for the Truck Series race at Chicagoland, only to fail to qualify. He'd have a sophomore slump in 2016, but in 2017 Chastain would post two more top 10s as well as his first top 5 in the Xfinity Series. He'd get his first taste of the Cup Series too, running both Dover races and attempting to qualify at Homestead-Miami before withdrawing. This was enough to get him to run more Cup races in the future. He'd run nearly a full-time Cup schedule in 2018. The only races he'd miss on the Cup schedule were the Daytona 500, where his team, Premium Motorsports, didn't field a car for him, and the Toyota/Save-Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, where he was replaced by road course specialist Justin Marks. He'd run full-time in the Xfinity Series as well, where he'd actually have his best season to date in any national series. Eight top 10s, three top 5s, the pole at Darlington, and he'd win his first Xfinity race at the Las Vegas fall race.
He'd ultimately finish 10th in the final Xfinity standings, and he'd parlay this success into a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing's Xfinity Series team. Ganassi has been a consistently solid team in the Cup Series, fielding cars for former Series champ Kurt Busch and former good driver Kyle Larson, and the IndyCar Series, winning four Indianapolis 500's. Ganassi's Xfinity Series team didn't have quite the level of success his other teams had, but it was able to produce a season of 19 top 10s, 12 top 5s, poles at Nashville and Indianapolis Raceway Park and wins at Nashville and Gateway for the then-19 year old Reed Sorenson back in 2005. There was reason to be optimistic for Ross Chastain heading into 2019.
You might be wondering what makes Chastain so unlucky. He signed with a good team, he's coming off the best season of his young Xfinity career, and he's only 26. Sure, he had to start and park in the past, but that's just the unfortunate reality for many teams who don't have the money to compete. It looked like the Melon Man had buckets of untapped potential that would be revealed in 2019. Maybe even an Xfinity Series Championship was in the cards. Well, in late December of 2018, DC Solar, the energy company which would be the primary sponsor for CGR in the Xfinity Series, had their headquarters and the home of their CEO raided by the FBI. It turns out they were running a Ponzi scheme scamming investors to the tune of $800 million. Chip Ganassi would not have the money to field a car in the Xfinity Series, and as such, he shut down the team. He'd return to JD Motorsports in Xfinity, as well as signing deals to go back with Premium Motorsports part-time in Cup and Niece Motorsports in Trucks.
Now, in an attempt to curb Buschwhacking (that is, when regulars in one series run races in others) NASCAR made it so every driver has to declare which series he wants to compete for the Championship in. Chastain, given his success last season, declared for Xfinity Series points. He'd finish 10th at Talladega, but that would be all he could get in Xfinity. This actually would match his best Cup finish, where he placed 10th in the Daytona 500. Comparatively, in the Truck series, he finished no worse than 10th. He even got his first Trucks win at Kansas. It was clear to everyone in the sport that Chastain made a mistake, and it would be a hell of a lot easier for him to win a championship if he declared for Trucks. He could switch to Trucks partway through the season, but that was unprecedented.
So that's exactly what he did.
There was one catch though. Since he declared for Trucks points after his Kansas win, that win wouldn't count towards points for the playoffs, and he'd be stuck at 0. Fortunately, he was only about one race away from the cutoff. He just needed one win and he'd essentially punch his ticket to the postseason. After another top 10 at Texas, he'd do it. Ross Chastain was going to the Truck Series playoffs with his win at Iowa.
Except he didn't.
In an attempt to stop cheating in the sport, NASCAR introduced a new rule: they would take a look at cars after the race, and if they failed inspection, they'd be disqualified. Lo and behold, our buddy Ross Chastain was disqualified. Despite dominating the race, leading the last 141 laps after taking over the lead from Johnny Sauter, NASCAR ruled his truck was too low to the ground, and instead gave the win to Brett Moffitt, becoming the only driver in NASCAR history to win a race without leading a lap. This was the first NASCAR disqualification in nearly six decades. Niece Motorsports is appealing this decision, but it doesn't look good for them.
The Melon Man has been through nearly everything in racing. Start and park, the FBI, an unprecedented series switch, a nearly unprecedented disqualification, and fleeting moments of success. The only thing missing is a championship.