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Rick Hendrick: Ross Chastain ‘making a lot of enemies’
Despite not winning a race yet this season, Ross Chastain sits atop the NASCAR Cup Series points standings heading into All-Star weekend. (Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Rick Hendrick: Ross Chastain ‘making a lot of enemies’

DARLINGTON, S.C. (BVM) – There were plenty of storylines going into the 13th race of the NASCAR Cup Series season at Darlington this past weekend, but perhaps the biggest was the aggressive driving of Ross Chastain, who has quickly stirred up controversy in recent weeks. On Sunday, more fuel was only added to the fire.

Chastain was having a good day at Darlington, passing Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 151 of the Goodyear 400 to eventual win Stage 2 of the race – the fifth stage win of the season for the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing.

Chastain remained towards the top throughout the late stages of the race, battling Kyle Larson whose No. 5 Chevrolet also looked poised for victory lane. However, shortly after a restart on Lap 288, Chastain drove hard up the track around the first turn on the inside of Larson. As he tried to pass the No. 5 car, Chastain failed to completely clear it, resulting in his car going into the wall. Larson also suffered a fair amount of damage as he pushed Chastain’s car into the straightaway.

The wreck ended the day for Chastain, while Larson remained in the race to finish 20th. Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, William Byron, earned a comfortable win after overtaking Kevin Harvick on the race’s overtime restart, while fellow Hendrick driver Chase Elliott finished third.

Despite the 29th-place finish for Chastain at the Goodyear 400, and having yet to win a race this season, he remains atop the Cup Series standings with 429 points, 27 points clear of second-place Christopher Bell, and five spots ahead of race-winner Byron. After the race, he took responsibility for the wreck with Larson.

“Full commit into Turn 1,” Chastain said. “I got really tight and drove up and turned myself. I wanted to squeeze him, I wanted to push him up. We‘d been racing back and forth all day. But I definitely didn‘t want to turn myself.”

Yet, the success Chastain is seeing has not come without controversy. At the AdventHealth 400 in Kansas earlier this month, Chastain got in a fight with driver Noah Gragson after the two made contact with each other multiple times during the race. 

While the fight could’ve been seen as a bad look for the rookie driver, Gragson is far from the only person in the Cup Series that has expressed similar feelings towards Chastain. After the altercation ensued, Elliott walked by Gragson, uttering the words, “Somebody’s gotta do it.”

During the same race, Kyle Busch also took issue with Chastain’s aggressive driving, pushing the No. 1 up towards the wall to give him a “warning.” That happened just a week after Larson voiced his frustration with Chastain during a race as well, as he was partly responsible for the No. 5 car wrecking at Dover.

Following the Darlington race, yet another one of NASCAR’s biggest figures took issue with Chastain. This time, it was Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, who criticized the driver of the No. 1 car during a post-race press conference.

“I think you can ask any driver in here that he’s wrecked, that have been involved with him, he doesn’t have to be that aggressive,” Hendrick said. “You just don’t run people up in the fence … He’s going to make a lot of enemies that it’s hard to win a championship when you got a lot of paybacks out there. 

“He’s got a lot of talent but he’s making a lot of enemies out here … It’s really getting old with these guys.”

While Hendrick is the latest to weigh in negatively on Chastain’s style, others have come out in support of the Trackhouse Racing driver. Perhaps the most notable to do so is former Cup Series driver Kyle Petty, who last week told fans to, “Get off Ross Chastain’s back.”

One thing that remains certain amid the controversy is that the 30-year-old Chastain undoubtedly has plenty of talent. That was seen last year as he won two races at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega while also making the Championship 4 after pulling off an improbable move at Martinsville Speedway where he rode the wall to move up five spots at the finish. 

Whether drivers, crew members, team owners or fans love him or hate him, Chastain is here to stay. If his aggressive driving style changes or not remains to be seen, but right now, it’s still leading to success.

NASCAR will head to North Wilkesboro Speedway this weekend for the Cup Series season’s All-Star Race before Chastain will have a chance to earn his first victory of the year at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte to close out the month of May. 

While both events are two of the biggest on the Cup Series calendar, don’t expect the storylines surrounding Chastain to disappear anytime soon.