By: Ashley McCubbin
Ross Chastain may have finished the Unhinged 300 at Talladega Superspeedway in second, but he quickly proclaimed that Saturday was the best feeling he’s ever felt doing that. It wasn’t just due to the earning the $100,000 Dash for Cash bonus, either. Instead, it centered around pushing his teammate Justin Haley to the victory.
While the success has been fun to watch on-track for Kaulig Racing after entering the sport just four years ago, the bond between their current line-up of drivers is just as entertaining. It was on full display on the start-finish line at Talladega, with both Chastain and A.J. Allmendinger joining in the celebration.
It’s something they have held together from the beginning, as evident with Chastain’s trip to victory lane at Daytona last year. As Haley stated, “Teamwork baby!”
Though it goes beyond that, as it seems the team as a whole is on point right now. In the last four races, they have placed each of their drivers in the top-10, except for Haley in the first event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with Allmendinger scoring the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I think the biggest thing with Kaulig is we all work as a team,” Haley commented. “The 16 guys built my car, and they built the 10 car, and we all build each other cars. In the shop, it’s just one big group. Me, A.J., and Ross have gotten along really well. Obviously they had a lot of knowledge as I struggled to start, but being around them has been awesome. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
So just how close is the bunch of drivers together? Chastain relates the bond to a bunch of school buddies.
“In reality, A.J. and Justin are really closer honestly because they have this weird father-son dynamic,” he added. “So I’m just like a distant cousin, nephew, or uncle; I don’t know where I fit in exactly, but I let myself in.”
It is why it was only natural for both Haley and Chastain to celebrate together on the front stretch, followed by Allmendinger joining the group for a hug. Chastain felt inspired to ensure that happened this time around after feeling that was a missing piece following their teamwork at Daytona last year.
“When we won in Daytona, I wanted the other two cars to do burn-outs with me,” he reflected. “So I had to go down there and spin around a little bit and those kind of memories, just enjoying that moment, I’ve really learned to really enjoy these moments in NASCAR because there was a time where I didn’t know if I’d be around much longer than the time I’ve been here.
“These two make it fun. It’s a laid-back atmosphere at the shop. Matt Kaulig gives us more reach then we probably need, but he gives us the reach to go do what we want to do.”
The dynamic works perfectly, especially for a young driver like Haley, who is still learning the ropes in the sport and now has leadership from both Allmendinger and Chastain to lean on.
“I love my place right now at Kaulig Racing,” Haley said. “Obviously, I think it’s the place to be right now. Obviously Ross Chastain has helped this program a lot, and A.J. Allmendinger – the teammate aspect of it is pretty incredible. We all work together to be fast.”
Upon taking the win at Talladega, the question was rose whether Haley will return to the organization in 2021 and beyond. Though based on what he’s seen, Chastain believes his buddy will have a long road in the sport.
“It’s not easy. It’s not going to be how you thought about it as we all go through ups and downs in racing and in life. But Justin has grown up,” he stated. “There was a time where I didn’t know if he was going to be back. He’s 21, but he’s a lot more mature than I was at 21; that’s all changed recently. He has good people around him.
“We both work with Spire and I’m proud of that, I’m proud we’re teammates at Kaulig. It’s one big family.”