MADISON, Ill. —Ross Chastain shook his head and tried to understand what he had done Sunday.
One of the sport’s winningest drivers this season left World Wide Technology Raceway humbled. His aggressive driving angered Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, leading both to retaliate.
“I just drove over my head so many times,” Chastain told NBC Sports walking back to the garage after finishing eighth. “It’s one thing to do it once, but I just kept driving into guys.
“I can’t believe walking back right now that I did it repeatedly, and I had time to stop and think out there under caution. It would go green, and I would do it again. I’ve tried so hard to be better.
“Words are not going to fix it. An apology is not going to fix it. Just awful.”
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) June 5, 2022
Chastain hit Hamlin’s car in the back and sent it into the wall as they raced for sixth on Lap 64. Hamlin lost laps for repair and was not a factor the rest of the race, finishing 11 laps down in 34th.
“It seems like there’s no sense of conscience there that says maybe I’m being a bit aggressive,” Hamlin said of Chastain to reporters. “That’s his decision to make. He can make any decision that he wants to, honestly.
“He’s his own guy, and he’s been very successful doing what he’s doing. Ultimately, this sport is self-policing and usually when you least suspect it — and it means the most — it comes back around.”
Denny Hamlin said when he pays back Ross Chastain, it will be meaningful and when he least expects it, that you have to “fence these guys hard” to get their attention.
More of what Hamlin said about Chastain after Gateway: pic.twitter.com/B0SCkCct6r
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 5, 2022
About 15 lapses after the incident, Chastain came upon Hamlin. Delivering a message, Hamlin drove Chastain down to the apron on the backstretch before Chastain passed.
Hamlin later impeded Chastain again. It got to the point that NASCAR instructed the team to tell Hamlin he had made his point.
Chastain, though, wasn’t done upsetting drivers.
He squeezed between Austin Dillon and Elliott on a restart. Chastain hit Elliott in the left rear, turning Elliott and bringing out the caution at Lap 103 of the 245-lap race.
Elliott said on his team’s radio: “What’s he doing? He ran me over getting into (Turn) 3 and then runs me over again.”
On the following restart, Elliott and Hamlin were at the back of the field with Chastain. Elliott bumped Chastain, sending him up toward the wall. As Chastain moved back down the track, Hamlin came by and moved him up.
Change my tires pic.twitter.com/XMXxIOtoqr
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) June 6, 2022
While Chastain was hard on himself, Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks defended his driver, who has won two Cup races this year.
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single thing Ross Chastain did wrong today, not a single thing,” Marks told NBC Sports. “This is a very, very competitive sport and you fight for every single inch.
“The thing is that he’s a newcomer in the top five and the established top-five guys don’t like there’s a newcomer there. I’m super, super proud of him. He’s very aggressive. That’s what is required in winning races and ultimately it’s going to get him to where he’s going to be NASCAR champion — his aggression matched with his talent.”
Can’t wait https://t.co/mvgttjy476
— Justin Marks (@JustinMarksTH) June 6, 2022
I mean you can keep stocking if you’d like. Not sure it helps the end resolve.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) June 6, 2022
While Chastain breeds aggressively, he’s also tried to rein it in at times. Kevin Harvick approached him on pit road after the June 27 Pocono race last year and told him “if you just back off one notch” Chastain could have scored a top-five finish. Instead, Chastain finished 26th after contact with Christopher Bell.
Chastain trains with Josh Wise, a former driver, who also works with Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Tyler Reddick, among others. Wise has worked with Chastain on knowing when to be aggressive and when to back off.
One of Wise’s tactics last year was to prevent Chastain from even saying the word “take.”
“You’re not to use that word anymore, and you’re not going to do it on the track,” Chastain said Wise told him last year.
He didn’t use that word Sunday after the race. Instead, he said something else.
“I owe half of the field an apology,” Chastain said. “Words aren’t going to fix it, so I’ll have to pay for it on the track. I almost did today and I deserve everything that they do.”