Up to Speed: Ross Chastain Punching Back at Critics

Judging by NASCAR Cup Series statistics alone, things are going great for Ross Chastain. He and Trackhouse Racing are proving that their 2022 breakout season was no fluke. Though he does not yet have a win this season, Chastain leads the overall points standings. His lead grew from three to 31 points thanks to a top-five finish and a crash by Christopher Bell at Kansas Speedway last weekend.

However, another week went by where Chastain found himself caught up in controversy. This time he drew the ire of Noah Gragson. While battling for position off the exit of turn 4, Chastain washed up the track and slid toward Gragson, leaving little room for the No. 42. Gragson bounced off the wall and veered left into the No. 1 going down the frontstretch in an obvious show of displeasure with Chastain. Not long after, on lap 206, Gragson went sliding down the backstretch, bringing out the caution.

Yet the Chastain/Gragson drama did not end there. After the race, Gragson confronted Chastain on pit road to further voice his frustration. Gragson then grabbed the front of Chastain’s fire suit. When he didn’t let go, Chastain threw a punch at Gragson, setting off a scuffle that was quickly broken up by security. There were no further words — or punches — exchanged between the two drivers.

See also
Tempers Flare Between Noah Gragson, Ross Chastain in One Hot Afternoon at Kansas

“I got tight off of [turn] 4 for sure,” Chastain said. “Noah and I have a very similar attitude on the racetrack. We train together, we prepare together, we know each other, every little bit about each other. [I] definitely crowded him up on (turn) 4, he took a swipe at us in [turn] 3 and then came down [after the race] and grabbed ahold of me. A very big man once told me we have a no-push policy here at Trackhouse.”

Gragson, unsurprisingly, had a different take.

“I just got fenced by the [No.] 1,” Gragson said. “He took care of us at Talladega. We’re Chevrolet teammates and he didn’t work with us there, fenced us here, and I’m just over it. Nobody else has the balls to at least confront him, and least just grab him and do something. He’s just gonna keep doing it. I’m over it, it’s the second time.

“I have respect for Justin Marks and the rest of the Trackhouse team, that’s why I’m not wrecking him on the racetrack. I’m ready to fight him. I didn’t even get a shot at him because the security guards got in the middle of it. Nobody confronts the guy. He just keeps doing it, and I’m sick and tired of it.”

Gragson’s frustration is understandable. Though he shares some of the blame for the incident with Chastain at Talladega Superspeedway, the resulting crash spoiled one of the few good runs Gragson had going this season.

Chastain was also the catalyst for Kyle Larson’s bad day at Dover Motor Speedway last week. The No. 1 spun Brennan Poole early in the race and Larson got collected when Poole slid back across the track into his path. Larson did not retaliate against Chastain directly, but he did impede Chastain’s progress late in the race while Chastain was in second and trying to catch the leader.

It’s also true that since Chastain became a contender in the Cup Series, drivers have been reluctant to confront him outside of the car. Of the drivers who Chastain clashed with in 2022, Denny Hamlin was the only one who really pushed back by forcing Chastain into a lift-or-wreck scenario at Pocono Raceway. The Hamlin/Chastain feud flared up again earlier this season at Phoenix Raceway when Hamlin admitted to putting Chastain in the wall during the closing laps of the race.

All the while, Chastain has tried to shy away from controversy. When he had his initial run-in with Hamlin at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway last year, Chastain appeared remorseful and declared that he had to do a better job controlling his car. He chalked up Hamlin’s payback at Pocono to being a part of racing.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Were Kansas Conflicts Warranted or Racing Deals?

Yet Sunday was different. Chastain was clearly not going to take the fall for Gragson’s bad day. For once, Chastain almost seemed to revel in the post-race chaos, so much so that he threw the first punch. Gragson did put his hands on Chastain first, a decision that practically guaranteed that fisticuffs would follow. But if Chastain really wanted to, he could have tried to shake himself loose or shove Gragson away, or at least resorted to something other than throwing a haymaker. Given the opportunity to deescalate, Chastain cranked the tension up even higher.

Both drivers do have valid complaints. Gragson is right that if the other drivers have a problem with how Chastain races, they must confront him. Griping about Chastain away from the track clearly has not changed anything.

But Chastain was not at fault for the incident with Gragson at Kansas, and even the Talladega crash was a product of two hungry drivers fighting for a shot at victory. Chastain may have a reputation for aggressive driving, but it does not automatically mean that he is the guilty party in every altercation.

Gragson’s post-race comments may be a call to the other drivers who are fed up with Chastain, but the pit road fight suggests that Chastain has had enough with getting blamed for every on-track incident in which he’s involved.

In the short term, it feels doubtful that the feud between Gragson and Chastain is over. Gragson may claim that he will not wreck cars as retaliation, but his incident with Sage Karam in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America last year suggests otherwise. There is not a single driver in the Cup Series field who is above wrecking another competitor on purpose if they get pushed too far.

That is where the real risk lies for Chastain. He has every right to stand up for himself, but the fact of the matter is that he has a great shot at the Cup championship. Gragson — and many others — have far less to lose. If Sunday’s race has emboldened Chastain to push back against his critics, he will inevitably find more controversy down the road.

When — and how — someone decides to settle the score could be the difference between Chastain winning and losing the title.  

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

9 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dawg

Let’s be honest about Chastain. As things stand now. He’s the best thing the sport has going for it.

No less a spokesman than Tony Stewart is bemoaning the current crop of goody two shoes, plain vanilla drivers.

Ross is the standout exception, & he’s not just the exception, he’s a very successful exception. They say, “that nothing succeeds like success.”

NASCAR is trying to nail down a new TV deal, that’s not only vital to them, but to the teams as well. One thing is overhanging these negotiations is ratings.

What do you think the ratings would be, if on one of the rare off weeks, NASCAR put on a special that featured all of Ross’s greatest hits, Interspaced by the same from Gregson from his Xfinity career. Ross, vs Hamlin, might be an even better draw.

All this leading up to the two of them getting in the ring & going a few rounds.
I expect that InBev, i.e., Budweiser, would be happy to sponsor it.

Look at what the F1’s Drive to Survive, has done for that sport. To show the potential they could use. This would appeal to both the fans & the haters. Cheesy, hell yeah! But think about it.

Kevin L

Unfortunately his stupidity level is still too high on the charts.
BTW: His kind of insincere talk and disrespect is nothing compared to almost any Bad Boys of years past. His inclusion does nothing for, nor against, NASCAR. seen these kids come & go since the 60’s. Other than his fence-riding win nothing he does impresses.

Kurt Smith

I don’t disagree, but trying to market a potential rivalry is a misguided strategy for NASCAR these days. With their endless drive for parity, there aren’t any drivers dominating anymore and there never will be under the current championship system. You won’t have a Dale Earnhardt emerging and then a Jeff Gordon to challenge his supremacy, because no one is allowed to stand out in the field anymore.

Kevin L

Since the 60’s, I’ve seen many, many wise guys like Chastain come & go; mostly go. He’s currently trapped himself in the category of those who ‘don’t get it’. Think they are free to do whatever, whenever and get away with it. At some point it will be time for Chastain to pay for his actions. He says he knows that — looks at the camera and repeats it weekly — but continues to disrespect.
He is seemingly disconnected — even from himself.
Perhaps his first lesson might be to wipe the smirk off his face while telling us in TV interviews: “I probably have some payback coming… I guess I deserve it”.
Doesn’t know how to sell that insincere condescending rhetoric.
Most wise guys learn over time how to respect and gain respect in return. Drivers like Dale, Sr., Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, the Busch Brothers to name a few. Although there are the exceptions who never grow up, at least not in practice. Logano being a classic current example of unwilling or unable to change enough to be trusted.
Bottom Line: There are ways to be a wise guy, get attention, and evolve at the same time. Chastain isn’t even close to there yet.

Bobby DK

NASCAR needs another half dozen Ross Chastains. Go back to your front porch yell at kids to get off your grass.

PeterPiper

Whiny kids today wouldn’t have survived in the 80s Go Ross. We need another Mr Excitement in NASCAR. I wonder how many of the easily offended would even know who Mr Excitement was.

Dawg

Ross was called the wrecking ball.

Mr. Excitement was called an Atomic Powered Wrecking Ball.

He came to mind as soon as I heard the wrecking ball comment.

DoninAjax

Spencer crew member: “Hey Jimmy! There’s a guy with a knife wants to talk to you behind the trailer.”

Jimmy: “I guess I better get a knife and see what he wants to talk about.”

Shayne

If you can’t figure out how to race with Ross then stay out of his way. Bunch of hypocritical BS from most of the complainers. Ross is in everyone’s head.

Share via