Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Will the William Byron-Ross Chastain Spat Carry Into Future Races?

Will the last-lap Texas Motor Speedway contact between William Byron and Ross Chastain carry into future NASCAR Cup Series races?

Joy Tomlinson: Who knows? Ross Chastain left the track before anyone could ask him about it. I would be upset if someone junked my car (whether by accident or on purpose) on the last lap of the race. Chastain likely will race harder with William Byron until he feels vindicated of the incident. Since Chastain tends to drive more aggressively, that could result in some contact made with Byron. It reminds me of when Kevin Harvick was angry with Chase Elliott after Elliott blocked him at Bristol Motor Speedway. Then, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Harvick wrecked Elliott and later wrecked himself, and that was that. But that was in the playoffs, not within the first few months of the season. I don’t think Chastain would do something that drastic that could potentially hurt his team more than what Byron did at Texas.

Luken Glover: It’s hard to say anymore, because some drivers let things go easier than others. There is also the potential factor of things happening just beyond payback, such as an unhappy owner or sponsor. Remember Chastain’s incident with Kyle Larson last year? That led to conversations within Chevrolet, and Chastain struggled for weeks after that. With Talladega Superspeedway this week, there very likely will not be, nor should there be any further conflict. It’s something that could have dissipated by the time drivers arrive in Alabama, or it’s something that we’ll see hashed out weeks down the road. Drivers do have long memories. But given Byron deemed it as a racing incident and was apologetic, I doubt you will see much, if any retaliation in the future.

Kevin Nix: No. Replays showed that the contact was not intentional, as Chastain lifted and almost smacked the wall coming out of turn 2 before Byron got into him. Chastain has been public enemy No. 1 of Hendrick Motorsports, but this contact has been seen as a racing deal by both Byron and much of the fanbase. Chastain can sometimes be a reckless driver, but it would do him more harm than good to either retaliate against Byron or race him any differently than he has been.

Vito Pugliese: I don’t think so; Byron is generally a pretty clean competitor, and it was Chastain who arced down into Byron’s path off turn 2. This isn’t the beginning of another Chastain vs. Denny Hamlin saga, even though Rick Hendrick had his fill of Chastain running into his cars a couple of years ago.

See also
Stat Sheet: How Often Does the Trailing Car Win a Photo Finish?

Excluding Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, who has been the best of the rest in Cup so far?

Austin Bass: Ryan Blaney, statistically, is the easy answer. He, along with Byron and Larson, led the series with four top-five finishes. He is one of six drivers to have won a pole, and he is seventh in the point standings, the highest among drivers not with HMS or JGR. Blaney, however, does not pass the eye test. He and other Ford drivers have not shown competitive speed outside of drafting tracks. Tyler Reddick, on the other hand, has been fast on a variety of tracks thus far and has shown the ability to make passes, a tall task for most drivers these days. He has looked dominant at times and has led the most laps among those not preordained to win. With a little bit of help from the racing gods, Reddick can break up the monopoly that these two behemoth organizations have established and change the narrative that they are wholly dominating the 2024 season.

Nix: 23XI Racing. Both Reddick and Bubba Wallace have had several strong runs in the early part of the season, and Reddick was in contention to win last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway before his pit crew faltered on the final stop. Both drivers have three top-five finishes, and neither driver has a DNF yet. Toyota has been strong across the board, with JGR having one of the strongest team starts to a season in recent memory while largely overshadowing 23XI. The team is consistent, and its drivers are putting themselves in a position to win and lead laps.

Pugliese: Shoutout to Daniel Suarez and the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing team. A photo-finish win at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a top five at Texas is a decent start to the season 11 weeks in. Chastain sits 11th in points with four top 10s and had a top five in hand until his contact with Byron. Also, a tip of the cap to Stewart-Haas Racing. While the Fords as a whole are in a rut, Chase Briscoe has four top 10s and Noah Gragson has a pair of them. He’s run better than the finishes may indicate and has had to overcome a points penalty at Atlanta.

Tomlinson: Reddick. He’s currently eighth in points and has earned three top fives and six top 10s so far. Also, in the last four races he has two top fives and four top 10s, leading 37 laps at Texas last week. He led 68 at Phoenix Raceway before ultimately coming home 10th, and at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he placed second. Reddick’s hungry for a win and felt like he should’ve won at Texas, so don’t be surprised if he spoils the JGR/Hendrick party soon.

The Cup broadcasters said Ford is extremely focused on winning at Talladega Superspeedway. Is the race considered a failure for the manufacturer if one of its drivers doesn’t win?

Pugliese: Not a failure, but definitely a missed opportunity. Not unlike last year, Ford got off to a very slow start and didn’t seem to have its cars sorted out until August. That said, it obviously finished strong with Blaney winning the championship, but it needs to capitalize on its opportunities early in the year with one driver in the top 10 and three others in the back third of the top 15 in points.

Bass: If you’re a manufacturer, isn’t every race a failure if you don’t win it? This season has been a failure thus far for Ford because of the big goose egg in the win column. It has to be extremely focused on winning this race because it appears to have the most outright speed on drafting tracks, and it appears to be the slowest of the three manufacturers everywhere else. However, putting all your eggs in this 2.66-mile basket is a risky proposition. It is unfortunate for Ford that the tracks where it has its biggest advantage is often negated by circumstances beyond its control. The Big One does not care how focused, dedicated or fast anyone is; it will reach out and grab any car at any time. Expecting to win under these conditions is about the same as spinning a roulette wheel: You need a lot of luck to win and you better be mentally prepared to lose. If Ford does not win this race, it is no more or less of a failure than the other eight races before it. The Dark Horse doesn’t have enough giddy-up, and winning at a drafting track won’t fix its larger performance issues.

Tomlinson: No. The only one who’s won a race outside of Hendrick and JGR is Suarez at Atlanta, and even then it was only by inches over Blaney. Ford could have had its first win then. Blaney is the most recent winner at Talladega and finished second to Kyle Busch in the spring, so if anyone has the best shot to win in the Ford camp, it’s him. But due to the chaotic nature of superspeedways, anyone really can win if they’re near the front at the end. It shouldn’t be considered a failure if Ford doesn’t eke out a victory through 10 races. If it doesn’t win by Sonoma Raceway, the manufacturer might be in trouble.

Glover: It wouldn’t necessarily be a failure, but it would be a key swing and miss if they don’t. While Ford continues to iron out the kinks in the new Mustang Dark Horse body, it has to take advantage of what it is strong at, and that’s superspeedways. In the Daytona 500, nine Ford drivers combined to lead 103 of the 200 laps, yet mistakes at the end had them come up empty. In the past 17 races at Talladega, the Blue Oval has won 11. The key this week will be for the Fords to execute throughout the day, form up when it matters most and avoid mistakes that will wipe most of them out. If Ford doesn’t win, it will have to assert itself as a favorite throughout the weekend before it is given credit for it.

See also
2-Headed Monster: Did Ryan Sieg Do Enough on the Last Lap at Texas?

Which NASCAR Xfinity Series regular needs a good run at Talladega?

Nix: Jeb Burton. Jordan Anderson Racing has shown quite a bit of improvement this year as a whole, but Burton has not been a part of that. He has no top fives, no top 10s and his 10-years-younger teammate is 10 spots ahead of him in the standings. Talladega has been very kind to Burton, and he’s going to need more of that kindness if he has any chance of making the playoffs. He’s behind Kyle Sieg in points, and Sieg has run two fewer races this season. With JAR improving each week and being especially strong on superspeedways, one has to wonder how long of a leash Burton has with the organization. He has to prove he can still run up front in this equipment on this type of track, because Parker Retzlaff and Jordan Anderson himself have both already done that this season. Christian Eckes is looming.

Glover: There are a couple of drivers who need to cash in this weekend, but Kaulig Racing as a whole needs to have a good weekend. Until Austin Hill showed up, Kaulig owned superspeedway racing at the Xfinity level. This season, the team is not running up front like it has been accustomed to doing in the series in recent years, and the speed just hasn’t been there. Even though he is seventh in points with four top 10s, it has felt like a down year for AJ Allmendinger. Shane van Gisbergen is doing a solid job continuing to learn, while Josh Williams had an unimaginable amount of misfortune to start the year, miring him in 20th in points. If Kaulig wants to establish itself among the frontrunners once again and compete for wins, it needs to answer the call this weekend.

Bass: Hailie Deegan is having a rather miserable start to her Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year campaign. Expectations weren’t overflowing for her, given that she drives for a small team that has only been racing at this level for two years. However, Brett Moffitt was able to show competitive speed at times during the 2023 season in the same AM Racing equipment. Moffitt often raced inside the top 10, finishing there nine times last year. Deegan hasn’t sniffed the top 10 and has finished inside the top 20 only twice. Of all the drivers who have qualified for every race, only one has fewer points. Drafting tracks are the great equalizer, and Deegan is in dire need of some help to obtain a solid finish.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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