Ross Chastain said Kyle Busch got faster in the final stage at Auto Club Speedway. He also felt his Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet got looser the longer it ran.
Whatever the reason, Chastain came up short Sunday afternoon and finished third after dominating the Pala Casino 400 for 91 laps led and a sweep of the stage wins.
Chastain and Busch had gapped the field as the final round of green flag pit stops approached. Things were going well for the No. 1, who used dirty air to his advantage and kept the charging Busch behind him, no matter how close he came to his rear bumper.
With 34 laps to go, Busch finally got a nose under Chastain in Turns 1 and 2 and took the lead. The two came to pit road together later in the lap and did so side-by-side as they fought for an advantage.
Busch, however, kept the lead through the pit cycle. As he drove away to the win, Chastain faded to third after losing a spot to Chase Elliott in the final laps.
“He got faster. I don’t know,” Chastain laughed about the difference between the two. “Our balance was building loose most of the day, so I thought we did everything right. We kept up with it. It would just build pretty loose late in the runs. And at times it was enough, and at times it got way better. I felt like we were the steady force – our Kubota Chevy was.”
The Trackhouse car led five different times in Sunday’s race. They were the class of the field, and even when Chastain lost spots on pit road, he was never down for long. No matter where he put his car on the track, it did what he needed to go forward.
What a difference a year makes for Chastain and company, who failed to finish the season-opening Daytona 500 in 2022 and then crashed two cars at Fontana the following week.
The team has finished ninth and third in the first two races with 96 laps led, the No. 1 now leaving California the point leader.
“To start off this year the way we have is a 180 from last year when it was not like this,” Chastain said. “So as much as it stings, as much as it does hurt, hats off to Chevrolet for a top four there, and (I’m) pumped to be in this position with Trackhouse.
“For our first crack at the big tracks here, it’s all we can ask for. We will regroup and study and be back next week.”