Ross Chastain now has the undivided attention of a NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner. Sunday was another race that saw Chastain end the hopes of a win for Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson.
On lap 288 of the 293 scheduled, Chastain and Larson were battling for the lead after a restart with Chastain taking the low lane. Entering Turn 2 side by side with Larson, Chastain slid up the track and just far enough in front of Larson that Chastain was sent nose first into the outside wall. An obviously upset Larson continued to push the Chastain car sideways down the backstretch before finally dropping down and driving away.
“How does that make any sense, running us into the fence?” Cliff Daniels, Larson’s crew chief could be heard saying on the team radio. “That’s three races he’s taken us out of—the 1 car—three races he’s taken us out of.”
For his part Chastain took responsibility for the incident that left him with a DNF and relegated Larson to a 20th-place result.
“Full commit into Turn 1,” said Chastain, who finished 29th. “I got really tight and drove up and turned myself. I wanted to squeeze him. I wanted to push him up. We’d been racing back and forth all day. But I definitely didn’t want to turn myself.”
In two of the last four races, now three counting Sunday, Chastain has been involved in incidents that have led to crashes for Larson. At Talladega it was on an overtime restart that had started with a shove to Larson by Chastain while racing for the win that ended with Larson wrecked.
Then at Dover Chastain shoved another driver that collected Larson; Sunday it was more of the same. Larson, who seemed to be the car to beat in the final stages, ended with a 20th place finish for Larson.
Needless to say, Larson said nothing after the race. His team owner Rick Hendrick, however, had plenty to say. For his part Rick Hendrick has some advice for Chastain.
“I think you can ask any driver in here that he’s wrecked or been involved with him,” he said. “He doesn’t have to be that aggressive, and I guess at this point in the race maybe you’re super aggressive, but you just don’t run people up in the fence or just — he’s not going to — he’s going to make a lot of enemies. It’s hard to win a championship when you’ve got a lot of paybacks out there.
“He’s got so much talent. I think if he just calmed down that there’s a time in the race — Dale Earnhardt Sr. told me one time — I won’t name the driver that drove for me, but he said, he’s got all the talent, he just doesn’t know how to race, meaning he just knows when to race, when to push it. He’s got a lot of talent, but he’s making a lot of enemies out here.
“Kyle, this one and Dover and just — Talladega, it’s really getting old with these guys.”
Hendrick doesn’t seem swayed by the fact that Chastain drives for the same manufacturer as his four drivers.
“I don’t care if he’s driving a Chevrolet if he wrecks our cars,” he said. “I don’t care, and I told Chevrolet that. If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back. If you don’t do it, they’ll run all over you.
“I’m loyal to Chevrolet, but when somebody runs over us, then I expect my guys to hold their ground. I’m not going to ask them to yield just because of Chevrolet.”
For now, however, Hendrick feels it should be between the drivers.
“If you have a lot of people wanting to pay you back, then it’s hard to win a championship that way,” he said. “He’s got talent enough to do that. But we don’t want to get knocked out of — if you look at the points that Larson has lost because of that and the race here today, I think somewhere in the stages he was all over Larson.
“The drivers have to settle that. Whatever I say to the owners or NASCAR, NASCAR wants to get in it — they did with Jeff Bodine and Dale Earnhardt when he was going through all that, and they put a stop to it. “
And he isn’t advocating for Chevy to step in.
“Well, I don’t know if Chevrolet can cool it down,” he said. “I don’t know that. That’s not the way they usually operate. It’s either NASCAR or the drivers, the owners. You’ve heard the pit crew say before, we like it. We don’t care if people like us. We’re here to run over and win.
“If it doesn’t change, he’s going to have a hard time winning a championship. “
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