Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Pull Up or Shut Up; Was Noah Gragson vs. Ross Chastain Justified or Just Racing?

Training partners during the week became mutual combatants on pit road Sunday following the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway, when Noah Gragson confronted Ross Chastain after an incident lead to the No. 42 blowing a tire and spinning out on lap 207.

While Gragson made his intentions clear on pit road, Chastain beat him to the punch and landed a shot before they both were restrained. Chastain has had more than his share of on-track skirmishes in the last couple of years, but to date nobody has really confronted him until Gragson.

Was Gragson justified in wanting to settle things outside of the car, or was the latest Chastain incident legitimate just racing? This week Vito Pugliese and Wyatt Watson offer their takes in 2-Headed Monster.

Taming Unchecked Aggression

Another race, another incident involving Ross Chastain. At this point we’re entering death and taxes territory as a constant in the Cup Series. What once was the domain of a RWR car bringing out a yellow before halfway as a prop bet, Chastain was involved in not just one but two on-track incidents Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

Waiting for him with an Eastwood-esque scowl, but a Lloyd Christmas coif was Gragson. Never one to shy away from throwing hands, Gragson confronted his training partner and got a Chael Sonnen masterclass in not letting you get too close.

Predictably as you watched it develop, Gragson ate one.

To his credit he was unfazed by the jaw shot and tried to return fire but was intercepted by what appeared to be a security guy – twice. In essence, it was the second insult that he would suffer at the hand of Chastain that day. As he was walking off, Chase Elliott stopped and said to him, “Somebody had to do it…” in regard to confronting The Melonator.

See also
Happy Hour: Was Noah Gragson Justified in Confronting Ross Chastain?

While Elliott usually doesn’t wade into things remotely controversial – I tend to agree with him.

NASCAR has had different eras of unapologetic drivers. Before Dale Earnhardt, Curtis Turner was known as “Pop,” because he’d pop the car in front of him in the middle of the corner to move him out of the way. More recently we’ve seen similar attitudes from drivers who see other cars as obstacles to success, like Carl Edwards and Joey Logano.

Kevin Harvick got into it with Edwards in the garage area once after practice with Edwards ending up on the hood of his car. Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch both came down to take a swing or throw stuff at Logano – neither of whom really changed the arc of Logano’s career which as seen him win two championships and a Daytona 500.

But at least somebody challenged them.

In Earnhardt’s case, he really wasn’t one to get into it physically, as he knew who not to get into it with. While a spin with Ricky Rudd at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1989 ultimately would cost him the championship that season, he never really got into with Rudd after that incident.

There’s a reason for that.

When he tangled with Darrell Waltrip at Richmond Raceway in 1986, impaling Waltrip’s car on the guardrail he tried to make amends and explain to car owner Junior Johnson afterwards. Before he could even get started Johnson glared at him and simply said, “Boy … get out of my face.”

Yes sir, end of discussion.

Now in Chastain’s case, it’s a little bit different scenario. He doesn’t have a gruff, steely eyed persona. He’s the watermelon farmer from Florida that always seems to be smiling, pulling off one of the most iconic moves in motorsports history last year at Martinsville.

But that isn’t a free pass to end other guy’s days on a weekly basis.

Last year Denny Hamlin tried to repay the favor(s) at World Wide Technology Raceway, dogging Chastain around the track, slowing down on the backstretch and blocking his progress. Earlier this year at Phoenix Raceway, Hamlin tried to do him one better by intentionally wrecking him – which got him in hot water following the revelation on his podcast.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: A Ross Chastain-Denny Hamlin Truce? Say It Ain’t So

Following his win Sunday on the final lap, one of the first people to congratulate Hamlin was … Chastain? Yes – THAT Chastain. In the media center following his media obligations, Hamlin was shown by Bob Pockrass video of the incident with Gragson on pit road. Hamlin laughed and said, “He told him to stop….”

To quote Henry Hill in Goodfellas, “You know why? … it was out of respect.” Today I believe the kids say, “game recognize game.”

There has to be a line in the sand drawn with some drivers, and they have to know there is a limit to how much others will accept. Better to scuffle on pit road and settle it rather than put someone on the shelf for six months with a concussion on the track. The good old days that everyone clamors for saw the same thing on a regular basis. Get into, understand the boundaries, have a beer or a slice of melon together and laugh about it a week later; but it can’t continue to go unaddressed. – Vito Pugliese

It Wasn’t Ross’ Fault — This Time…

Ross Chastain has been in the mix as one of the most polarizing drivers in the sport as of late. The moment a spin happens on track, the possibility of him being the culprit of the incident is more likely than not it seems like. The level of attention drawn to Chastain’s aggressive stye of racing has become meme worthy.

Chastain deserves a good majority of the criticism he receives from his critics.

However, judging the last two incidents involving Chastain and Gragson and this week’s incident with Christopher Bell, I can safely assess that Chastain didn’t do anything wrong. He was just running his race.

Bell, who had infamously called Chastain out as the “wrecking ball,” came off turn 2 behind Chastain with eight to go in stage two battling for seventh. Both cars were moving up the track, and Chastain was running close to the wall. On the inside, Bell came up to Chastain seemingly to side-draft him and tagged the No. 1 and sent the SiriusXM Toyota Camry careening into the inside wall on the backstretch.

Chastain couldn’t avoid what would happen to Bell, and Bell seemingly wasn’t aware Chastain would run out of room. From my perspective, Chastain and Bell got caught up in a racing deal fighting hard for seventh position.

Later in the race, Gragson, who was consistently running in the top 15 and top 20 for most of the day, found himself restarting in the top five with 72 laps to go after electing to stay out on pit road. Six laps later, Gragson fell back to 14th place and was seemingly going to fall more spots anyway. Coming into turn 3, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent his Camaro to the inside of Gragson and Chastain three-wide. Chastain, who had been battling a tight race car, got tight off of Stenhouse’s car and pushed towards Gragson. Gragson, not backing down, chased his car up the track to try to avoid Chastain and hit the wall coming out of turn 4.

However, Chastain’s car gripped the track and left Gragson a good lane to avoid making the mistakes. Gragson moved down to seemingly try to retaliate to no avail. The two would see each other again a few more time on the track with Gragson being unsuccessful in dishing out vengeance on the Watermelon Man.

Not even two weeks ago, Gragson made his own error leaving Chastain enough room get under him at Talladega Superspeedway. After that Gragson slid down on Chastain and took him out of the race.

See also
Did You Notice?: Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney Victory Droughts Loom Large

Without excusing what Chastain has done in the past to drivers like Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Brennan Poole, Chase Elliott, and so on, the incidents between Chastain and Gragson have been ordinary racing situations. Chastain has raced aggressively in the past and will continue to give next to nothing when it comes to defending position or battling to take position away, but for the events that took place at Kansas Speedway, Chastain did nothing wrong or overly-aggressive.

Even though Gragson going up and confronting Chastain doesn’t seem warranted in my eyes, doesn’t mean that nobody shouldn’t do it right now. Larson or Poole should’ve absolutely confronted Chastain after the race at Dover. Harvick could’ve gone and talked to Chastain after the Atlanta Motor Speedway incident (although you can trace their history as far back as the Xfinity Darlington Raceway incident in 2018). Hamlin during their almost year-long feud didn’t take things as far as some fans think he should’ve.

Gragson is a pioneer in the Cup Series for stepping up to the man who seemingly keeps getting away with everything, and even though it really wasn’t that successful, maybe this opens the door for more of that to come for Chastain if the trend continues for him in the future.

Chastain has been in some kind of controversy in eight out of 13 races this year including the Busch Light Clash. The way things are going for him, he will more than likely find himself in this situation again with somebody in the field once again. – Wyatt Watson

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

Wyatt Watson has followed NASCAR closely since 2007. He joined Frontstretch as a journalist in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter, collecting exclusive content for Frontstretch.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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Dawg

I think anyone who wishes to confront Ross, probably shouldn’t start out by pushing him.

I’m on Ross’s side on this, but if you’re going to be a hardnosed racer. Then you can expect hardnosed racing in return.

I expect Ross can take it as well as dish it out, & it just might help the ratings.

janice

if gragson hadn’t of touched chastain i doubt a punch would had been thrown. it wasn’t a touch of friendship from gragson, it was a shove, which to me, is a threat.

people need to move on. neither got fined.

i guess something will happen at darlington that everyone can focus on for a week afterwards.

Bill B

Talk about beating a dead horse……

DoninAjax

Still?

Sue

Get over the Chastain bashing. All of you (writers?) can’t find regular stories to write so you beat the dead dog. Get over it. Gragson is a spoiled punk,in my opinion, and was the same way before he got in cup. Oh by the way did Chase Elliot think someone should fight Kyle Larson when he wrecked HIM?

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