By Dustin Albino

LAS VEGAS — Ross Chastain entered the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the hot hand. He had top five finishes in three of the last four races in Sin City.

Chastain‘s weekend didn‘t start off as planned, however, on Saturday. The No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team had to re-wrap the hood of its car following qualifying, as it was flapping in the high wind. Chastain also had to drop to the rear of the field for the beginning of Sunday‘s Pennzoil 400 because of an unapproved adjustment.

The No. 1 Chevrolet displayed its speed from practice early in the race, as Chastain raced to eighth position, scoring three stage points in the opening stage. But his race went amiss during a green-flag pit stop in the second stage, as he was among multiple drivers to get caught for speeding on pit road. Chastain has been caught for speeding in all three races to begin the 2024 Cup Series season.

“I can‘t believe that I‘ve sped on pit road all three weeks,” Chastain said out of frustration. “That took us out of contention with how the day went. We were strong enough to fight with the [Kyle Larson] and [Tyler Reddick] and I took us out of that. I cannot believe that I did that.”

When asked what Chastain could do to prevent another speeding penalty, he said: “Slow down. Trying too hard. It‘s ridiculous, unnecessary. I know better, I train better, my team prepares me better and I‘m not pushing the pedals right. I cannot believe that I‘m standing here talking about it again three weeks in a row.”

Following his drive-through penalty, Chastain was pushing his car to the limit, attempting to get his lap back the old-fashioned way by passing the leader. He burned up his fresh tires and Larson was able to pull away, lapping other competitors. The biggest break for Chastain came when Christopher Bell spun off Turn 2 with the laps winding down in the second stage. While the leaders chose to pit, the No. 1 team stayed on the track to take the wave around and was back on the lead lap.

Over the final 100 laps, Chastain had to make a spirited charge and couldn‘t ever race back inside the top 10. However, he caught another blessing when Corey LaJoie spun with 33 laps remaining. Chastain‘s crew chief Phil Surgen made the bold call of changing two tires under the caution to get enough track position to start next to Larson on the front row.

“That was everything,” Chastain said of the two-tire call. “We would have been back in the teens. I didn‘t care if it was two tires, put the spare tire on, it doesn‘t really matter. Our car was good enough with clean air to fight with those guys. It didn‘t matter how many tires — I wanted clean air. [Surgen] said it and I was yelling on the radio yes, and I‘m glad he thought of it.”

Over the final stint of the race, Chastain was only passed by Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney. The fourth-place finish is his first top-five effort of the season.

More importantly, Chastain was pleased with his car‘s capability. The strength of his car gives him added confidence going into upcoming races on intermediate tracks.

“The handling of the car is incredible,” Chastain said. “It‘s everything that I want, dream about and wake up and train for is to drive cars like this. That‘s what makes it hurt so much worse. If we finish fourth and were legitimately an eight-place car, it‘s high fiving. You all have seen me throughout my career, I jump up and down for a fourth-place finish.

“When I have a car capable of winning and I take ourselves out, that‘s what I can get down about right now but excited about because I know how good the car was and how much speed it had.”

The Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway next weekend where Chastain is the most recent winner at last November.

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