NASCAR’s ‘Melon Man’ credits Kansas victory for changing his career
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ross Chastain can’t help but smile when he thinks of Kansas Speedway, where two of NASCAR’s top three touring series return for races this weekend.
His career was at a crossroads in 2019 when he arrived for a spring NASCAR Truck Series race.
Six months earlier, Chastain had signed with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the second tier of stock car racing in the United States
It was supposed to be Chastain’s big break, but that ride disappeared a month later when the FBI raided DC Solar, which sponsored the #42 car, Chastain was to drive. With the sponsorship gone, the team also disbanded.
“Chip Ganassi kept me on as a reserve pilot, sim development pilot, just to be nice,” Chastain said. “That’s basically what it was all about.”
Chastain, the son of Florida watermelon growers, had worked on and off in NASCAR’s Truck and Xfinity series since 2011.
He picked up his first Xfinity Series win shortly before the full-time gig came and went almost as quickly.
“My career changed in 2018 when I got this opportunity in the 42 Xfinity car,” Chastain said. “When that went away, I expected to go back to how it was before, where a top 10 would be like a win and we’d keep going.”
NASCAR drivers are used to traveling in ovals, so sitting at a crossroads is an awkward place, but Chastain wasn’t ready to give up on his dream of the NASCAR Cup Series.
Boosted by the support of Chip Ganassi COO Doug Duchardt, Chastain began driving for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series and took a decisive victory in the seventh race of the season, crossing the finish line first in the Digital Ally 250 at Kansas Speedway for his first Truck Series victory in 65 career starts.
“After starting in 2011, we finally won in 2019,” Chastain said. “It’s a lot to lose.”
But the victory in Kansas also marked the end of those days. He won a few more truck races during the season, which led to a full-time Cup Series opportunity with Chip Ganassi last season.
“The fact that we were able to win after the adversity we had, he (Duchardt) just said to me, ‘That tells me more about you than anything,'” Chastain said.
Trackhouse Racing purchased Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation after the 2021 season and retained Chastain.
He rewarded this decision with two Cup Series victories, the first of his career.
“This year has been amazing,” Chastain said. “I’m grateful, but I also realize that we deserve to be where we are. We tried hard.
Yet he traces that success — and his emergence as NASCAR’s “Watermelon Man” — to that May 10, 2019 trip to Victory Lane.
“I think it saved my career, honestly,” Chastain said. “…I strongly believe that if we didn’t win those races that year, starting here, I don’t know if I’m sitting here today.”
With each victory, Chastain has become a viral sensation for his watermelon celebration, a tradition that began with his victory in the 2018 Xfinity Series.
In fact, he didn’t come to Kansas prepared with a race-ready watermelon three years ago, but Chastain rectified that oversight by cracking open a melon during a track appearance last week.
The team provides a watermelon each week, which is in a foam case at the entrance to the team transporter.
“It’s a motivational tool now,” Chastain said. “…When someone – a tire changer, an engineer, a mechanic, the crew chief, the owner – sees it, they know that for me, for Ross Chastain, that watermelon means winning – and we are here to win.”
Kansas Speedway Weekend Schedule
Saturday May 14
9 a.m. — Opening of the car parks
9:30 a.m. — Grandstand opens
9:45 a.m. — ARCA Ménards training/qualifications
11:00 a.m. – NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Practice
11:30 a.m. – NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying
12:35 p.m. — Presentation of the ARCA Menards pilots
1 p.m. — ARCA Menards Dutch Boy 150 Series
4:00 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Series practice
4:35 p.m. – NASCAR Cup Series qualifying
6:30 p.m. – Presentation of the drivers of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
7 p.m. — Heart of America 200*
* Fireworks to follow
Sunday May 15
9 a.m. — Opening of the car parks
10:00 a.m. — Grandstands open
12 p.m. — Pre-race concert: Summer Breeze
1:30 p.m. – Presentation of the NASCAR Cup Series drivers
2:00 p.m.—AdventHealth 400