Chastain, who was eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago and led just one lap in the previous nine races, overshadowed the four drivers that were contending for the 2023 series championship at Phoenix Raceway.
Sunday’s race is the first time since the current playoff format debuted in 2014 that the champion did not win the season finale.
It was a fact not lost on Chastain, who did his usual victory celebration of smashing a watermelon as series champion Blaney did burnouts in his No. 12 Ford further down the frontstretch.
“We did something else that’s never been done before,” Chastain said. “For everyone on this team, this vision for Trackhouse and what this was, were goals like this. They were lofty.
“That last caution we were really tight. It saved us. Phil Surgen (crew chief) and this group at Trackhouse, all of our GM support staff, sim staff, everybody came up with a way to make this thing turn, and we drove off into the sunset.”
Chastain, who drives the No. 1 Chevrolet, ended the 2023 season ninth in the series standings with two wins, 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and won one pole.
In the first season with the Next Gen car last year, Trackhouse proved to be an unexpected contender as both Chastain and Daniel Suarez both advanced to the playoffs and Chastain was one of the four drivers who contended for the Cup title.
The 2023 season proved more difficult for Trackhouse as Saurez didn’t win a race and failed to make the playoffs and Chastain won once and got eliminated in the second round.
Chastain’s surprise victory on Sunday left team co-owner Justin Marks feeling just as proud of his organization as last year’s breakout season.
“The series has gotten tougher. These teams are bigger than us, have a lot of resources to figure out these cars,” Marks said. “Now, everybody is understanding the cars more and more, what it takes to make them go fast, the drivers are understanding how to drive them. The level of competition has gotten much more difficult this year.
“Look, I mean, we won two races. I think it’s a wonderful success. I think the playoffs are just very, very difficult, one race can make a difference. Ross had some great races in the playoffs. The No. 1 team put up a heck of a…