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Racer Ross Chastain and the ‘Watermelon Truck’ moving up in the NASCAR world

NASCAR truck series driver Ross Chastain has earned an upgrade after having an excellent rookie campaign driving the National Watermelon Association- and National Watermelon Promotion Board-sponsored “Watermelon Truck” in the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Season. Ross-ChastainNASCAR truck series driver Ross Chastain at the National Watermelon Convention in San Antonio, TX, in February with Mitch Mitchell of International Paper. (Photo by Chip Carter)This year Chastain is driving for the team of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keslowski.

Seven top-15 finishes — including a dramatic third-place performance at Bristol, TN — helped the 20-year-old from Alva, FL, a hotbed of Southeast watermelon production, catch the eye of Keslowski.

The step up means a higher profile for Chastain but less track time. On a top-performing team, rather than drive each race, Chastain will share starts in the No. 19 National Watermelon Association Ford truck with Keselowski and teammate Ryan Blaney.

The move also means more exposure for the NWPB and the NWA, which had its national and state chapter watermelon queens passing out slices in garages at raceways across America last season to a more-than-receptive audience.

In February, Chastain qualified in the 16th position to begin the season at Daytona International Speedway and finished 14th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ NextEra Energy Resources 250 after a yellow flag prevented him from jockeying for better position at the finish line.

“I am pretty excited and feel extremely fortunate to race this season, and I love racing in Daytona since Florida is still my home and I still have my family and friends here,” Chastain said. Making the occasion even more special was the fact that the “Daytona Race weekend is also the 100th Anniversary Weekend of the Watermelon Association. It was a nice start for the team though, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the season,” he said.

“Watermelons have always been a part of my life so to have the opportunity to be the one that represents the entire industry is an awesome feeling,” said Chastain. “This is the NWA’s 100th year. They and the NWPB have chosen to market the most popular year-round fruit in the country with Brad Keselowski Racing and me.”

“The National Watermelon Association is delighted that Ross Chastain kicked off our centennial year by driving the watermelon truck at Daytona,” said Bob Morrissey. “Chastain performed very well for us during his rookie season and now with a new seat in Brad Keselowski’s truck, the future is even brighter for this young driver and the watermelon industry.”

“The National Watermelon Promotion Board was delighted to help sponsor Ross Chastain in the season-opening Daytona race,” said Mark Arney, NWPB executive director. “This is an excellent opportunity to get the message out that watermelons are not only great tasting, but they are also good for you and can be enjoyed year-round.”

Chastain is currently ranked 23rd among drivers in the truck series, which continues through Nov. 15.