MADISON, Illinois — Ross Chastain shook his head trying to take in what he had done on Sunday.
One of the sport’s most successful drivers this season left World Wide Technology Raceway humbled. His aggressive driving angered Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, prompting both of them to seek revenge.
“I just ran over my head so many times,” Chastain told NBC Sports as he headed back into the garage after finishing eighth. “It’s one thing to do it once, but I just kept crashing into guys.
“I can’t believe I’m going back right now, that I’ve done it repeatedly and I’ve had time to stop and think with caution. It would turn green and I would do it again. I tried so hard to get better.
“Words won’t fix it. An apology won’t fix it. Just awful.”
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) June 5, 2022
Chastain hit Hamlin’s car in the back, sending it into the wall as they were battling for sixth place on lap 64. Hamlin lost laps for repairs and was not a factor for the rest of the race, finishing 11 laps down in 34th place.
“It seems like there’s no conscience there that says maybe I’m a little aggressive,” Hamlin told reporters of Chastain. “It’s his decision. He can honestly make any decision he wants.
“He’s his own type and he’s been very successful at what he does. At the end of the day, this sport is self-policing and usually when you least expect it – and it means the most – it comes back.”
Denny Hamlin said if he pays Ross Chastain back it will matter and when he least expects it you have to “fence these guys hard” to get their attention.
More of what Hamlin said about Chastain after Gateway: pic.twitter.com/B0SCkCct6r
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 5, 2022
About 15 laps after the incident, Chastain ran into Hamlin. Hamlin delivered a message and pulled Chastain up the backstretch to the apron before Chastain drove past.
Hamlin later handicapped Chastain again. It got to the point that NASCAR ordered the team to tell Hamlin he had his point.
However, Chastain wasn’t done pissing off drivers.
He squeezed between Austin Dillon and Elliott in a restart. Chastain hit Elliott in the back left, flipping Elliott and bringing out the caution on lap 103 of the 245-lap race.
Elliott said on his team’s radio: “What’s he doing? He hit me coming into (Turn) 3 and then hit me again.”
At the restart that followed, Elliott and Hamlin were at the back of the field with Chastain. Elliott bumped into Chastain, sending him into the wall. As Chastain was walking back down the track, Hamlin passed and took him upstairs.
change my tires pic.twitter.com/XMXxIOtoqr
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) June 6, 2022
While Chastain was hard on himself, Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks defended his driver, who has won two cup races this year.
“Honestly, I don’t think Ross Chastain did a single thing wrong today, not a single thing,” Marks told NBC Sports. “It’s a very, very competitive sport and you fight for every inch.
“The thing is he’s a newcomer in the top five and the established top five guys don’t like that there’s a newcomer there. I’m super, super proud of him. He’s very aggressive. It’s what it takes to win races and ultimately it will get him where he will be NASCAR champion – his aggression coupled with his talent.”
Can’t wait https://t.co/mvgttjy476
— Justin Marks (@JustinMarksTH) June 6, 2022
I mean, you can keep stoking if you want. I’m not sure if it helps the solution of the ending.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) June 6, 2022
While Chastain races aggressively, he has also tried to rein it in at times. Kevin Harvick approached him on the pit lane after the Pocono race on June 27 last year and told him “if you just go down one notch” Chastain could have had a top five finish. Instead, Chastain turned 26 after touching Christopher Bell.
Chastain trains with Josh Wise, a former driver who also works with Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Tyler Reddick, among others. Wise has worked with Chastain on knowing when to be aggressive and when to back off.
One of Wise’s tactics over the past year was to prevent Chastain from even saying the word “take.”
“You’re not allowed to use that word anymore, and you’re not going to do it on the track,” Chastain said, Wise told him last year.
He didn’t use that word after the race on Sunday. Instead he said something else.
“I owe half the field an apology,” Chastain said. “Words won’t fix it so I’ll have to pay for it at the track. I almost did that today and I deserve everything they do.”