Is Ross Chastain’s poor reputation irreversible?
In the July 2018 NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. caused two big crashes and was involved in a further three crashes in what put together was an embarrassing night.
He became the butt of many jokes, and his reputation as a reckless driver that causes accidents still lingers on in the present day.
After his performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend, Ross Chastain may be reaching the reckless reputation without a chance to go back.
The reality is that the number of drivers that Chastain has angered this season cannot be counted on one hand. At Circuit of the Americas, he spun out AJ Allmendinger on the final lap to win. At Richmond Raceway, he had a heated feud with Ryan Blaney in the middle of the race while battling for position. At Dover Motor Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. crashed on the final lap while racing for third after Chastain slammed the door on him down the backstretch. At World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Chastain wrecked both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott in the first third of the race.
And now at Atlanta, Chastain crashed Truex (again), sparking a big crash early in the race. Plus, in the closing laps, he wrecked Hamlin (also again). This does not even count the drivers collected in these incidents who were also upset.
Now, it can be argued that some of the incidents were racing deals or unavoidable.
But when they’ve happened this frequently in a span of 14 races, it’s a pattern.
The breaking point appeared to be at Gateway, where Hamlin and Elliott played games to hold him up whenever they ran beside him on the racetrack. Chastain was incredibly apologetic in his interview, and he said that he needed to stop making the same mistakes.
But making the same mistakes twice at Atlanta, Chastain’s Gateway apology lost its meaning. To make matters worse, he dumped Hamlin, the one driver that he did not need to run into again. Now it appears that Hamlin will seek future retaliation.
It will take a long time for Chastain’s image in the garage to rehab, and that’s only if he keeps his nose clean and avoids running into other drivers for the remainder of the year. If he continues to be involved in future incidents, the drivers will not feel afraid to take matters into their own hands.
After their big NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, what’s next for Parker Kligerman and Henderson Motorsports?
There truly is no comparison to the performance of Parker Kligerman and the Henderson Motorsports No. 75 truck last weekend.
With a part-time team that has one full-time employee, Kligerman qualified second and then proceeded to dominate the entire race at Mid-Ohio. He led 56 of the 67 laps, and he held off a hard-charging Zane Smith – the series points leader with three wins in 2022 – in a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Yes, there have been smaller teams to pull off upset victories. But the majority of them have come in the frantic and chaotic closing laps at Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway where the draft serves as the great equalizer.
But for a small, part-time team and driver to just destroy the field on a challenging road course? Given the circumstances, it’s one of the most surprising performances in Truck history.
What it also shows is that it’s time for Kligerman and Henderson to take the next step. Kligerman was already running in the top five and contending for the lead on numerous occasions before Mid-Ohio, but the win has now cemented his status as a championship contender if he is able to run full time.
After the win, it was reported that Henderson would like to attempt a full-time schedule with Kligerman for 2023 if it can find the proper sponsorship and funding. Given the potential that Kligerman and the team have shown, it would be a prime opportunity for a manufacturer to increase its support or for Henderson to form a technical alliance with another full-time team. Either option would help turn the team into a perennial contender.
Outside of Henderson, teams should also be taking a hard look at Kligerman for 2023. Kligerman will be 32 in October, but that is far from old age in NASCAR. Josh Berry got his big break in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021 at age 30, and Chastain has burst onto the Cup scene at age 29.
Kligerman himself was rumored to drive for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this season before a sponsorship deal fell through. If the proper sponsorship funding can be found, RCR and all the other teams in the garage would be clamoring to have him.
Tyler Reddick now has 53 races left with a team he will be leaving after 2023. Will he leave RCR early, or will finish out his contract?
The honeymoon phase of Tyler Reddick’s first Cup win at Road America for RCR lasted nine days.
In a July 12 press conference, Reddick and Hamlin announced that Reddick will leave RCR for 23XI Racing at the start of the 2024 season. The news came out of left field and rocked the NASCAR world, especially after it looked like RCR had finally found the driver to lead the team for the 2020s.
As expected, RCR was not pleased with the news and tweeted a passive aggressive response to the signing.
— RCR (@RCRracing) July 12, 2022
While the tweet said that the team is focused on winning for the remainder of Reddick’s tenure, it’s also possible that the relationship between Reddick and the team will deteriorate after his shocking exit.
While Reddick and RCR appear they will move on and appear to go about business as usual, there will be a better understanding of where the two parties stand in the upcoming months.
Perhaps it will go the way of Kevin Harvick’s lame-duck 2013 season where he won four races at RCR despite the fact that it was announced in November 2012 that he would be leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. It could also go the way of Kasey Kahne’s 2010 season at Richard Petty Motorsports where he was released before the season ended and eventually found a ride at Red Bull Racing until his 2012 contract with Hendrick Motorsports began.
It all depends on how professional the two sides will be with each other in this tricky situation.
One Hot Afternoon: What went wrong with the attendance at Atlanta?
In recent years, TV networks have cut the number of scheduled night races. Most races are contested on a Sunday afternoon nowadays, with a uniform starting time at around 3 p.m. ET. These start times supposedly capture the maximum viewing audience in a series that has struggled with viewership totals for the last decade plus.
But if one tuned into last Sunday’s (July 11) race at Atlanta, they would be presented with a view of barren grandstands. The seats were at a quarter of capacity at best, and the attendance for the Xfinity race the afternoon before was just as pitiful.
It was a race in one of NASCAR’s biggest southern markets, complete with it being the home race for the series’ most popular driver in Elliott. And yet, it looked like a crowd that would show up for a Monday rain-out race.
The elephant in the room that has to be addressed first is the reconfiguration of Atlanta. The new Atlanta now has more in common with Daytona and Talladega than the other 1.5-mile tracks. In the record books, it might as well be an entirely new racetrack.
There was a solid attendance at the first Atlanta race this year. It wasn’t a sellout by any means, but it was a decent crowd. For race weekend two, that dropped off dramatically. It is possible that the fans that attended the first race decided that they did not like the changes. It’s certainly something to watch for 2023; the new configuration certainly has its critics.
The other problem is that it is the peak of summer in the deep South, where everyone will be sweating their you-know-whats off. While race day wasn’t as a hot as it could’ve been, the threat of hot weather and humidity certainly played in a role in leaving people at home.
Perhaps it was the heat, the layout, general apathy toward attending or a combination of all three. Whatever the case was, it was an embarrassing display. A race could have the greatest TV ratings imaginable, but a showing like last weekend is an incredibly bad look, no matter how you slice it.
If the poor attendance was due to the layout, that’s something that cannot be fixed. Just like how Texas Motor Speedway is stuck with its critically panned 2017 repave, Atlanta will be stuck with its superspeedway configuration whether fans like it or not.
But if it was because of the start time, that is something that can be amended. NASCAR has been a spectator sport throughout its history, and the fans in attendance can’t be completely ignored while chasing Nielsen ratings. When fans in attendance and a handful of drivers have grown frustrated with the start times, at some point their message should be taken into consideration.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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