Chastain: ‘Words aren’t going to fix it’

MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 05: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, and Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 05, 2022 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Ross Chastain, like most NASCAR drivers, isn’t in the business of making friends. That might have cost him at least a win Sunday at Gateway and maybe more repercussions as the season goes on, despite humbly apologizing at the end of the race.

After starting 10th, Chastain found himself fifth at lap 60.

Denny Hamlin was running fourth at the time and on lap 64 Chastain used the front bumper of his Chevy to move Hamlin’s Toyota entering Turn 1. Hamlin was sent into the wall between the turns suffering heavy damage to his car and effectively taking him out of contention for the win.

His crew repaired the damage as best they could, but Hamlin fell three laps down. Twice in the ensuing laps Hamlin forced Chastain down the track; Chastain was able to make his way forward and avoid Hamlin.

NASCAR officials warned Hamlin on the radio. While Chastain told his team on their radio, “I’ll handle it after the race.”

Then at the end of a restart on lap 101, Chastain’s right front found Chase Elliott’s left rear exiting Turn 4. The two were on the outside of a three-wide battle with Austin Dillon. Chastain’s car collided with Elliott’s, sending the No. 9 Chevy sideways across the track. Collected as collateral damage were Bubba Wallace, who spun, and rookie Harrison Burton, who contacted the left side of Elliott’s car.

On the next restart, Elliott made sure Chastain was aware of his anger, hitting the Chastain car in the left rear and sending him up the track in Turn 2. The pair later collided again, with Chastain sending Elliott into Turn 1 and into BJ McLeod’s No. 78 Ford.

Elliott’s crew said on their radio, “That kid needs an ass whooping.”

To which Elliott replied, “Yeah, that’s the damn truth.”

Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson added, “If we get a chance, let’s not mess it up like the 11 did.”

When the dust settled and Joey Logano won, Chastain finished 8th; Elliott 21st, and Hamlin 34th, 11 laps down.

After it was over, Chastain took responsibility for the chaos.

“It was just terrible driving,” a contrite sounding Chastain said. “It’s one thing to do it once, but I just kept driving into guys. At this level, I’m supposed to be better than that. It’s just a shame for Moose Fraternity, Advent Health, Jockey, Worldwide Express. I have all these people believing in me with Justin Marks and Pitbull putting me in this car. They deserve better.”

He added that he would be going and talking to Hamlin and Elliott.

“I will, yeah. I owe half of the field an apology,” he said. “Words aren’t going to fix it, so I’ll have to pay for it on the track. I almost did today, and I deserve everything that they do. I can’t believe I continued to make those same mistakes; overdrive the corners and drive into guys. I had time under caution to get reset; and we’d go green, and I would drive into somebody. Terrible.”

He already knew what he was going to say.

“It’s completely unacceptable that I did that,” Chastain said. “For the No. 11, No. 9, No. 34, so many guys. I was just way off on my driving today. Running into people is not acceptable at this level. I cannot believe, standing here right now, that I just made so many mistakes back-to-back. It’s one thing for one, but I just absolutely drove over my head today. It’s unacceptable.”

Hamlin was told of Chastian’s apology and while accepting, seem to hint that maybe that would not be the end of it.

“It’s good, he takes responsibility,” Hamlin said. “But you know, ultimately it ruined our day and I think we were kind of racing hard there for a while with him on the inside, and he tried to keep sliding up in front of us and wasn’t able to, because I wasn’t willing to just back off and let him slide up in front. And it didn’t take long after that he got behind us that it wrecked us.”

“So I mean, yeah, the unfortunate part is it didn’t look like he got too shy after that. Cause I think he had the 9 after that one.

“But yeah, you know, we all have learned the hard way and, we’ve all had it had to come back around on us and you know, it’ll be no different.”

Greg Engle