Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Darlington: I’d Like to Stop Talking About Ross Chastain, But He Won’t Let Me

What Happened?

DARLINGTON, S.C. – William Byron survived a series of late-race yellow flags and a late restart on Sunday, May 14 to win his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway and seventh of his career. Finishing a close second was Kevin Harvick, with Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace rounding out the top five.

This is Byron’s seventh career win at a seventh different track and third of the season. It’s also Hendrick Motorsports’ first win at the South Carolina circuit since 2012.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Is Hendrick Motorsports on Another Run?

But What Really Happened?

Four consecutive weeks.

This is the fourth week in a row we’re talking about Ross Chastain, and it hasn’t been just because of the top-five finishes.

On this week’s edition of Melon Man Melancholy, it’s Kyle Larson becoming the latest receiving end of Chastain racing hard for position – it’s not the first time for him, either. In this skirmish, they were both going for the win at the 1.366-mile track with only six laps to go.

It was another optimistic and aggressive move by the Floridian, and one that ended with the collective groan of everyone in the Darlington media center.

Larson isn’t upset with Chastain for the first time ever, but it’s the latest chapter in the book, and although he said he doesn’t want to get involved in a fight during Saturday’s media scrum bullpen, it sure would have been nice to hear what he wanted to do after he finished 20th and climbed out of his car on Sunday.

It would have been nice, but we don’t know since the driver of the No. 5 declined comment and beelined for his hauler before leaving without a trace.

It’s like what your mom always told you – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Unfortunately, we still have to talk about it for the fourth week in a row.

If you don’t believe that Chastain was the cause of that last Big One at Talladega Superspeedway, that’s fair, but the fact that he was involved in anything is cause enough for mention nowadays. That said, even if the Melon Man wasn’t part of an incident on Sunday, it would still be a story on its own.

Think about it. Chastain having a quiet race with no incident? When’s the last time that happened? It feels like a while ago, doesn’t it?

But that’s where we are. Week after week, the Melon Man has been involved with some hard racing that has angered another driver.

Admittedly, it is fascinating to watch. Like it or not, Chastain has transcended this sport to become the talking point of many a water cooler on Monday morning offices.

But at what point do we start cringing a little bit every time it happens? Because it’s got to be getting close.

We’ve seen that type of aggression before in NASCAR’s history from a certain driver, and he heeded a warning to the Melon Man on Sunday afternoon.

Swervin’ Ernie Irvan isn’t wrong. Even Chastain’s own teammate, Daniel Suarez, was upset with him after Circuit of the Americas.

It’s going to take longer than only one race weekend for Chastain to no longer be the story of media. The damage is done to the point that most drivers in the field are upset with the Trackhouse Racing driver, and him saying sorry is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.

There’s simply too much heat around him, whether he likes it or not, and every bump, scrape and rub on another driver’s sheet metal is making it worse.

No, this is something that takes time to cool down before we stop making it a story.

We want to, but we just can’t yet.

Who Stood Out?

When one door closes, another one opens, as they say.

That’s certainly the case for Larson’s HMS teammate Byron.

It’s ironic that Byron’s win comes after Chastain and Larson’s incident parted the seas for the HMS driver to inherit the lead for the final restart. One year ago, Byron had his own scuffle for the win with two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that ended with him (likely) as heated as Larson was on Sunday.

It’s almost like a redemption story, but more than that, it’s a story of continued success. It’s Byron’s third win of 2023, which is the most out of anyone else in the field. However, it’s not what he’s doing this year that’s interesting. It’s what he wasn’t doing last year.

In a stretch of seven races that spanned from the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Race to Worldwide Tehcnology Raceway in 2022, Byron didn’t earn a single top-10 result.

We’re in that span of races now this year, and Byron hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 since Martinsville Speedway.

Whatever it was that plagued Byron for most of 2022, the No. 24 team has gotten rid of it, and it might earn them a spot in the Championship 4.

Or maybe even the title itself.

Who Fell Flat?

Martin Truex Jr. was involved with an incident with Chastain, too. Unlike the incident with Larson, however, it wasn’t the Melon Man’s fault.

No, really. It actually wasn’t this time.

The 2017 Cup Series Champion was running down the No. 1 for the stage two win near the end of the segment. With one to go, lap traffic Daniel Suarez held up Chastain heading into the final corner, allowing Truex to catch the Trackhouse driver and gifting him with one more shot at the stage win.

So, Truex threw it inside, but when Chastain hit the wall, Truex hit him and spun himself.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recovered well after that. In fact, Truex still finished 10th in the stage and still earned a stage point.

But that’s not what ruined his day. The contact he had with Logano after a restart with 13 laps to go, however, is.

Did you notice something a little familiar with that move, too?

That’s right. It’s the same thing he did with Chastain. In fact, it’s also similar to what happened with Chastain and Larson.

The incident ended Truex’s day when it was all said and done. The No. 19 went to the garage shortly after. Instead of earning a top five result, Truex would be credited with a 31st-place finish.

Better Than Last Time?

An HMS driver upset with contact they had with another driver costing them a win at the Throwback Weekend race at Darlington?

Anyone else having Deja vu?

On-track disagreement similarities aside, this year’s 400-mile Darlington race was similar to the one we saw one year ago, albeit with a little bit of a downturn in competition. That’s pretty much a good thing.

Although, you have to admit, that first stage was a snoozer.

However, things certainly spiced up near the end of stage two. What happened after in the final segment was a series of lead changes that put it near last year’s race competition-wise.

There were 13 leaders and 24 lead changes in 2022, which is upward in comparison to Sunday’s eight leaders and 19 changes.

However, when you look at Darlington as a whole, this track proved once again why it is the beloved NASCAR circuit that it is.

It produced a wild late-race finish and had plenty of those edge-of-your-seat side-by-side battles we’ve come to know and expect from the Lady in Black, and some of those battles didn’t end well (see any section above).

See also
Rick Hendrick Sounds Off on Ross Chastain: 'If You Wreck Us, You're Going To Get It Back'

Paint Scheme of the Race

It’s that time of the year again.

As mentioned in last year’s edition of Thinkin’ Out Loud at Darlington, a great throwback paint scheme should include the livery’s design, its colors and its number font.

First, Logano’s throwback to Roger Penske’s first NASCAR win as a car owner should be mentioned. The red, white and blue popsicle look perfectly encapsulates what Mark Donohue‘s AMC Matador looked like when it won at Riverside International Raceway in 1972.

Then, there’s the Trackhouse Racing duo.

Once again, the drivers of the Justin Marks-owned team have shown up to the gala in some dresses that have everyone talking.

Suarez’s new partnership with Quaker State has allowed the team to pay homage to Ricky Rudd‘s Quaker State car from 1993. Additionally, Chastain’s UPS livery pays respect to Dale Jarrett‘s 2001 UPS paint scheme. Of course, both cars not only changed their number font, but used their sponsor’s history in the sport to their design advantage.

Of course, there’s the return of the Rocketman.

With Ryan Newman‘s return to Cup Series racing coming so suddenly, Rick Ware Racing didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for Throwback Weekend. Despite that, they still came out swinging and pulled a design made for one of the NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.

But despite all of these lovely designs, no car in the field truly looked like the original design it was replicating.

Except for one.

It’s a little more special when considering it’s paying homage to Elliott’s lineage. He joined his father on the NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list recently as well, making it just a little more special. That’s probably why it won Best in Show, too.

Well, that, and it was a fan vote.

What’s Next?

It’s time for a blast from the past – All-Star style.

After being away for 26 years, the sport returns to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway for one of the most anticipated All-Star Races in NASCAR’s history. Qualifying for the annual NASCAR All-Star Race will begin on Friday, May 19 at 5:45 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, May 21 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

For those drivers not already locked into next weekend’s race, the NASCAR All-Star Open will be live on Sunday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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gbvette

Frontstretch spent last week trying to defend Chastain, and here we are a week later and it’s starting again.

In the incident with Truex, once again Chastain was driving way over his head, got into the wall and bounced back into Truex. How is it that “it wasn’t the Melon Man’s fault” in that situation? He’s not racing hard, he’s out of control, he’s in way over his head and driving way beyond his ability. The media loves him because he gives them something to write about and NASCAR loves the attention. I just wonder what the media’s and NASCAR’s reaction’s going to be when he eventually hurts someone, or worse?

WJW Motorsports

Nailed it – I believe he is “this generation’s Dale Earnhardt” according to these wise scribes. Sadly, that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing I read last week.

Echo

So true, sadly.

janice

i lost interest in the race during segment 2. turned back on to see last 10 laps.

what i thought interesting, with all the hype of the 75 greatest nascar drivers, and throwback weekend, the cup race, premier series, right? was broadcasted on fs1. the xfinity race (feeder series?) was on fox on saturday afternoon.

i have a feeling with all the hype about the allstar race it’s going to be a disappointment.

Echo

Fox has never been known as the smart network.. Nascar has no say, they sold their soul. Now why in the world would you think that about the all star race ! lol the best minds at Fox have it under control, no worries 😉

Kevin in SoCal

I agree. Baseball has an agreement with FS1, which used the same timeslot as the XFINITY race. But it sure seemed strange to see. I would have thought baseball would get better ratings on Fox and put the race on FS1.

chastainfanbecausemoose

Fox is killing nascar. Their coverage sucks. They make a boring race even more boring. They never highlight battles and half the time, they miss wrecks and spins. They have too many commercials. NBC should cover the whole season. For the new tv deal, Nascar needs to leave fox. Sorry, Mike Joy.

Bill B

“But at what point do we start cringing a little bit every time it happens?”
For me it was this week. You have to have some respect for your competitors. You can’t just go for broke and say F everyone else all the time. Had he not ruined someone’s day for the last however many races, you could almost justify yesterday because it was coming down to the last few laps. Still, being a professional driver is about pushing it to the limit without going over the line, too many times Ross goes over that line. I thought the early clash with Truex was just a racing deal, but the one with Larson (again) was all Chastain’s fault.

As for questioning Larson feelings… “it sure would have been nice to hear what he wanted to do after he finished 20th and climbed out of his car on Sunday.”… I think we got that answer when he stayed in the gas and continued pushing Chastain’s car around the track after the wreck.

I really enjoyed the race overall until those last few cautions turned it all into a crapshoot ending. I guess we will never go back to ending under caution, but it was a lot more fair to the competitors and the races ended in a more dignified manner and less of a circus.

As for the throwback paint schemes, I don’t know how you didn’t mention Byron’s car. I have a diecast of the original Jeff Gordon chome-illusion paint scheme from the 50th anniversary and they are almost identical (except for the specific sponsors, of course).

Echo

I had my post deleted last night. What did you make of bubba’s after race interview! Totally perplexed me, huh
The 24 looked great imo Cup on FS1 on mother’s day makes all the sense in the world, to someone I guess.

Bill B

I assume you mean complaining about the post-wreck order as per NASCAR timing.
Sounds like advanced whining to me. He benefited as much as anyone from those cautions. I think he was 15th before those last couple of cautions. Yeah his car looked good in stage 1 but once he got back in traffic he couldn’t do much. There were only a few cars that seemed to be able to work their way forward and pass cars, Bubba’s wasn’t one of them. He was blessed and lucky to finish 5th.

janice

i mean what bubbles wants to win every weekend? 5th is good finish. talk to truex!

i just get so tired of the whining crap.

SS

I enjoyed the racing yesterday. A lot of guys who needed a good day got one(Bubba, Burton, Haley). Frustrated to see Ross Chastain run in over his head again. Great to see ROCKETMAN Newman back, just wish we could’ve seen a head to head battle between Larson and Chastain for the win rather than Byron vs a damaged Kevin Harvick.

Echo

All of the good finishes you mentioned, got them due to attrition. When everyone in front of you wrecks out on the restarts, you move up not because of your great driving.

Carl D.

A couple of things about Ross Chastain that are inarguable
 one, he sits atop the points, and two, he’s been giving his sponsors plenty of exposure. The on-track situation with Ross will work itself out.

No mention of Brad’s impressive fourth-place finish (besides the top five run-down)? No mention of that killer Castrol GTX paint job? <sigh
>. Brad Keselowski
 the Rodney Dangerfield of NASCAR. 😎

DoninAjax

Logano’s paint job reminded me of Bobby Allison’s race-winning Matador when he drover for Penske.

gbvette

Before there was the Allison Matador there was the 72 and 73 Penske Matador that Mark Donohue drove, and won Penske’s first Cup race in at Riverside in 1973. That was the car they were honoring with that paint job, not the later Allison cars. Donohue only raced the car 7 times, with his worse starting position being 10th at the 72 Daytona 500. Dave Marcus also drove it in 72 and 73, Allison drove the redesigned, more aerodynamic 74 Matador for Penske in 74 and 75. After Penske switched to Mercury in 76 Allison took over the AMC program.

JD in NC

Ross needs to think about the reality that after Martinsville last fall he was on top of the nascar world. He had just pulled off the ridiculous, amazing last lap bonsai move that put him in the championship four while simultaneously knocking out Hamlin, perhaps the most disliked driver in nascar. Just six months later he has burned most of that fan support to the ground. Hard racing is fine, pulling a move that has about a 2% chance of working goes beyond hard racing.

Kurt Smith

I remember when we used to frequently hear that these were “the best stock car drivers in the world”. No one says that anymore, because with every late race restart they’re all going for the win, a massive wreck happens and they look like freaking clowns.

As far as Ross Chastain, he drives aggressively. Who the hell doesn’t these days? The way the championship works, it’s well worth risking a wreck going for the win. He is a product of NASCAR’s championship system.

Bill B

Yeah everyone is driving aggressively and the championship format fosters that approach. Still, he seems to be the only one consistently, week after week, taking other cars out as a result.
When Stenhouse was having a similar run of wrecks, everyone was quick to chastise him and call him “Wrecky” (and I am no Stenhouse fan). I’m just saying at some point I have to question his tactics, no matter how much I like him. You can’t give one guy the benefit of the doubt because you like him and throw another under the bus because you don’t.

Kurt Smith

I’m indifferent to Ross, I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve some blame. Just saying that this is the type of driving that NASCAR has wrought. If it were worthwhile to race conservatively, take care of your stuff and get the best possible finish, Ross probably wouldn’t be taking someone out every week.

Bobby DK

I’m loving Ross! Bringing entertainment back to a vanilla Nascar world. I miss someone punching SPAM in a can, bouncing water bottles off heads, rattling a few cages, Spencerizing a certain other driver, hold my watch while I trim a Busch and jumping on the competitor’s hood not to mention a few purse fights in the pits. I’ll take this all day!

Bill B

Ummm, none of that has anything to do with racing, ideally.

Bobby DK

I deeply respect the driving talent, competition, the racing and the technical side ( though it’s been hamstrung the last few years). We are all paying for at the track , and hoping for on TV to be entertained and My thought is this young man and a few others coming up have brought it. Ain’t gonna complain about what he has brought to the table.

Irvan fan

Just wanted to say thanks for the Ernie interview