You could see the disappointment on Ross Chastain’s face. He and the No. 1 team had been through a rough afternoon at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. It’s not that they finished poorly; Chastain took the checkered flag in eighth. But on the way to the finish, Chastain found himself embroiled in controversy with Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. Watching the on-track shenanigans between Hamlin and Chastain especially, it felt almost certain that a post-race brawl would follow.
Instead, Chastain did something that is all too rare in NASCAR nowadays. He took responsibility for what happened on the track.
“Just terrible driving,” Chastain told FOX’s Jamie Little after the race. “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 a shame for Moose and Advent Health and Jockey and Worldwide Express. To have all these people believing in me, and Justin Marks and Pitbull put me in this car, they deserve better.
"I owe half the field an apology … I can't believe that I continue to make the same mistakes."@JamieLittleTV talks with Ross Chastain after his run-ins with competitors at Gateway. pic.twitter.com/o3XicpVLJ0
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 5, 2022
“I will [talk to the other drivers], he continued. “I owe half the field an apology. Words aren’t going to fix it, so I’ll have to pay for it on the track, and almost did today, and I deserve everything that they do.”
The trouble began when Chastain made contact with Hamlin, spinning the No. 11 into the turn 2 wall on lap 56. Hamlin lost several laps getting the damage repaired and was clearly furious with Chastain for getting taken out of contention so early. For the rest of the afternoon, Hamlin did everything he could short of wrecking the No. 1 to make Chastain’s life difficult. Whether he was squeezing Chastain nearly off the track on the backstretch, blocking him through the corners or holding him up after a restart, Hamlin hounded Chastain all day long.
But Hamlin wasn’t the only one to take a shot at Chastain. On lap 101, Chastain tried to go three wide through turn 4 and ran out of room attempting to pass Elliott. The two made contact, causing Elliott to spin and set off a crash that collected several others. Elliott was able to continue, but he was mostly uncompetitive for the rest of the day.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 5, 2022
Following a restart later on, Elliott nearly ran Chastain into the wall at the exit of turn 2. As Chastain tried to recover, Hamlin passed by and swerved toward the No. 1 once more. Chastain did not crash and he finished the race without further incident. But the run-ins with Hamlin and Elliott clearly weighed on his mind post-race.
It was also clear that Hamlin may not accept an apology.
“It’s good he takes responsibility,” Hamlin said, “but ultimately it ruined our day.
“The unfortunate part is that it didn’t look like he got too shy after that, ‘cause I think he got the [No.] 9 after that one,” Hamlin added. “We all have learned the hard way, and we’ve all had it had to come back around on us, and, you know, it will be no different.”
Hamlin, of course, had his own experience with Elliott where he had to learn the hard way. In the closing laps of the Martinsville Speedway playoff race in 2017, Hamlin put the bumper to Elliott, spinning him out while they were racing for the lead. Two weeks later at Phoenix Raceway, Elliott forced Hamlin into the wall while making a pass, causing the No. 11 to blow a tire and crash a few laps later. Neither driver advanced to the championship race.
Fans also might remember that immediately after the Martinsville incident, Hamlin did not take responsibility for spinning Elliott. After things had settled down, Hamlin did release a post on social media expressing regret for the incident. But while standing on pit road at Martinsville, getting uncharacteristically booed by his fellow Virginians, Hamlin’s attitude was different.
“I got in the back of him and he spun out,” Hamlin said. “Trying to get a race win there, but everybody wrecked everyone there at the end. It was complete bullshit chaos.
“Everybody was doing the exact same thing,” Hamlin added. “I hate it for his team. I understand they’ve had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to (the championship race). I’m not sitting here saying that I wrecked him on purpose. I tried to move him out of the way and he spun out.”
In Hamlin’s defense, the end of that was extremely chaotic. Elliott’s hands weren’t clean either that night; he muscled Brad Keselowski out of the way to secure the lead just one lap prior to the incident with Hamlin. Yet it was clear that the loss of a win, what would have been his first, and a pass to the championship race caused Elliott to seek payback against the No. 11. We’ll never know for sure if a prompter apology might have saved Hamlin from Elliott’s revenge, but the belated social media post clearly wasn’t enough.
Chastain’s more immediate apology might not be enough either. Clearly, he knows that, and he knows what it might cost him. If Hamlin or Elliott try to settle the score in the playoffs, it could be a fatal blow to Chastain’s championship hopes. Getting into late-season feuds generally doesn’t bode well for winning the title.
So, will Chastain really change his on-track approach going forward? He has always been an aggressive racer, and, unlike certain other drivers in the Cup Series, Chastain expects to be raced aggressively. He is not one to complain or play the victim if he gets roughed up, even while racing for the win.
However, the game is different for Chastain these days. He is no longer the scrappy underdog in the Xfinity Series or someone with limited opportunities in quality equipment. Chastain and Trackhouse Racing Team have a real chance to race for a Cup Series championship in 2022. But winning the championship becomes almost impossible if you go into the postseason with a target on your back. Many times, apologies aren’t enough. As the old saying goes, “sorry doesn’t fix my racecar.”
Chastain should be commended for owning up to his mistakes in Sunday’s race. It was the right thing to do and it will earn him the respect of his competitors. But whether or not it will get him completely off the hook is a different story. NASCAR is famously a self-policing sport and, to quote Hamlin, “it will be no different.”
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.