NASCAR Trucks Auto Racing

Ross Chastain celebrates in victory lane following the NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday.

While Kyle Busch saw his streak of top 10 finishes to start a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season end in a tie with Morgan Shepherd’s 1990 mark of 11, another driver kept two similarly impressive streaks going.

That was Ross Chastain, who scored his seventh top 10 in seven NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races to begin this year before taking the green flag in Saturday night’s Cup 400-miler to keep perfect attendance in all 29 events across the three national divisions this season, including the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Chastain did it in style, taking Niece Motorsports’ No. 45 TruNorth/Paul Jr. Designs Chevrolet Silverado to victory lane in Friday night’s Digital Ally 250. It was his first truck win in 66 career starts.

Much of what Chastain has done since the start of 2018 has been impressive — he ran 74 national series races last season and is well on pace to surpass that mark this year — but what he’s done in a truck this year has perhaps been the most notable.

He’s run off finishes of third, sixth, 10th, fourth, seventh, 10th and first to begin the year, completing all but one lap after finishing just off the lead circuit to round out the top 10 at Las Vegas.

Chastain has accomplished that feat with a Niece Motorsports team that brought just two top 10s and zero top five finishes in 77 career truck starts into 2019. While Niece has better positioned itself with a technical alliance with GMS Racing, Chastain and crew chief Phil Gould have elevated the small Statesville-based team into a weekly contender.

It’s a good look for Chastain, who ended 2018 on a high note after taking his first career Xfinity win at Las Vegas in a limited opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing. Chastain and CGR were set to be a fulltime couple in that series this season before sponsor DC Solar encountered legal issues, forcing it to renege on the deal and leading Ganassi to shut down its NXS program.

That left Chastain, 26, to scramble to put together a schedule for this season. He’s done pretty well for himself, sitting just outside the NXS playoff field at the moment in a fulltime combination between JD Motorsports and Kaulig Racing. He’s also running a full Cup slate in smalltime Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

The busiest driver in NASCAR isn’t just logging laps, either. The 6,480 circuits he’s completed this season include 11 laps led and the second-ever top 10 for Premium in the Daytona 500 in Cup; 30 laps out front, a Daytona stage win and a top 10 at Vegas in Xfinity; and a championship-caliber performance in trucks — if only he had declared for points in that series.

Hopefully, when you put it all together, it will mean a competitive Cup ride for Chastain — maybe as soon as 2020.

The rumor mill before the season suggested Kurt Busch’s stay in Ganassi’s No. 1 Cup car might only last one season before the 2004 series champion retires. If that pans out, that’s the most obvious landing space for Chastain, who still has a contract with CGR and has done some Cup testing already this year.

Kurt Busch has shown well in the ride, finishing no worse than 13th since the Daytona 500 with three top fives, eight top 10s and an eighth-place points standings. Given the opportunity, there’s a good chance Chastain would keep that car near the front, as well.

But as always, it will come down to sponsorship. Chastain, the fast-driving eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Alva, Florida, deserves that shot.

Justin Epley can be reached at jepley@morganton.com or 828-432-8943.

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