It was an exceptional performance from Ross Chastain in Sunday night’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway, earning a validating victory and solidifying himself among the top championship contenders.

The home-track weekend could not have been more perfect for the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team. Chastain scored his and the organization’s first Busch Light Pole on Saturday, rolled off P1 Sunday night and outlasted Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin for his first victory since Talladega Superspeedway in 2022 — a victory that had eluded him for 42 races, severing the longest active winless streak among drivers who have won.

“To go up against my heroes like that, to beat (Truex) tonight, drive by him and the 11 (Hamlin), was definitely a statement,” said Chastain after the race. “It felt good. I’m proud that we were able to do that.”

All season long, Chastain has been nestled at or near the top of the Cup Series standings, surrounded by drivers who have won one or multiple races. Joining the ranks of the victors as the 11th new winner validates his status as a driver who can truly win a championship.

“Yeah, it’s amazing,” said Justin Marks, team co-owner. “It’s amazing for this company. Last couple weeks have been a little bit tough for us. We got so many great talented people, two great race car drivers, amazing partners. I think what we’re doing is special, feels special. It’s hard for new teams to come in this sport at this level and be successful. But we’ve got two incredible race car drivers. I think Ross showed today that he’s really in rare air in this series, at this level.”

Rare air, indeed.

Chastain is now top four this season in top-five finishes and laps led and only trails Truex Jr., William Byron and Kyle Busch on the projected playoff leaderboard. He has all the statistics of a top driver in the series, but Chastain believes his first win on a traditional oval will take him to a new level.

“It’s bigger than anything,” said Chastain. “It’s an oval, a circle track. It’s lift, slide, hit the gas and brake, turn the wheel. My boys and girls on the 1 team have not let me forget that. They have been pushing me on that. (They) take you serious when you win on an oval track.

“This 1 team, before Trackhouse and I were a part of it, was very different iterations, but they were winning races in the Cup Series. They’ve been here and done it. They wanted to see me do it on a true oval.”

Before Sunday night’s victory, Chastain had only won on a road course and superspeedway. But he’d been close on oval tracks, tallying five runner-up finishes dating back to his second-place effort at Nashville in 2021.

Narrowly missing out so many times, the Music City conquest is a full-circle moment.

“It’s big because the circumstances around the first two wins, obviously, they’re great, it’s hard to win these races, but the road courses are difficult,” said Marks. “At Talladega, he drove a great race, had a great opportunity coming into the stripe there to win that one. To be able to come out here and be fast in practice, qualify on the pole, manage a great race from start to finish, from daytime to night, changing track conditions, I think it’s a very powerful statement for this team, for the 1 team, for Ross personally.”

Already having a remarkable season from a consistency standpoint, despite a brief lull in the three races leading up to Sonoma Raceway, the newfound energy after Sunday night’s win is already on display.

Celebrating on the frontstretch Sunday night, Chastain reiterated how he has had to overcome a difficult beginning to the summer stretch, highlighted by run-ins with Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson. But to him, it is nothing more than motivation.

“Yeah, I think the stuff on the frontstretch, I believe that,” said Chastain. “I’ve thought about that. It’s not just to say it when I have the spotlight. It’s a belief that you’ll be criticized. I think everybody in this room, at some point, has been criticized. If you want to keep doing it, if you want to be in this room, in this sport, you’ll keep going.

“No matter if it’s business or sports or your life, you just wake up and go to work. They’re not all going to be good days. We’re going to remember the old days better than they probably were. Just get up and go to work every day, see what happens.”

Sunday’s effort proved that Chastain isn’t just a front-runner but a serious threat to win and beat many accomplished racers while doing it. It is only one, but this could be exactly the jolt the No. 1 team needs to go on a remarkable run.

For many fans of the ‘Melon Man,’ too often the focus has been on his past: the rise to Trackhouse Racing alongside Daniel Suárez, heated on- and off-track run-ins with competitors, the ‘Hail Melon’ at Martinsville Speedway. But now, with a key win in the books and a playoff position all but guaranteed, there’s a clearer path to a promising future with another shot to contend for a Bill France Cup.

And Chastain truly believes that they will win.