Rarely has a driver who finished 21st been the topic of so much conversation following the conclusion of a race as has been Ross Chastain since the checkered flag waved over the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart. During the closing laps of the NASCAR Cup Series event held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, Chastain’s No. 42 car was in the process of being lapped by then leader Kyle Busch when Kurt Busch caught and passed his younger brother on his way to a victory and an almost certain spot in the upcoming NASCAR Playoffs.
After the race, Kyle Busch was convinced that Chastain held him up so that his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate(Kurt Busch) could catch and pass his No. 18 Toyota. The elder Busch’s triumph proved to be the first win of 2021 for CGR and it came on the heels of the recent announcement that the organization had been sold to Trackhouse Racing.
During his post-race interview with NBC Sports, Kyle Busch stated that being held up by Chastain was not his only problem as the finish of the race loomed, but at the same time, he was not hesitant about pointing a finger at the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet.
Even after being passed by his brother, Busch still made one last effort to retake the lead by drawing even on the inside line in turns one and two just before Kurt Busch used the momentum of the higher lane to maintain control on the back straightaway.
“We just don’t have enough front end with laps on tires,” the younger of the racing Busch brothers explained. “Had everything I had there early then just smoked it behind the 42, obviously. It shows you what kind of driver he is. Just tried to fight hard after that when I got passed and had one valiant effort off of two but just didn’t have enough momentum to drag him down and make him go high in three and four. After that, the tires were smoked. The 1 was definitely better than us today but I thought I had him, and we did, but the racing just didn’t play out that way for us.”
Chastain claims that he simply fulfilled a request from his teammate by taking the high line around the 1.5-mile track. Also, he was looking for the best way to serve his own interests.
“Kurt asked for the bottom so I gave him the preferred lane,” Chastain remarked after the race. “Racing to stay on the lead lap and I’m very aware of what’s going on on the track around me so Kurt asked for the bottom and I gave it to him.”
The racer who is in his first full season as the driver of the No. 42 car declared that helping a teammate was a way of benefitting the organization.
“To see a Chip Ganassi Racing car go to victory lane with all that’s happened in the last few weeks and all this year, there’s nothing I want more, one team with one goal and that’s to win,” Chastain insisted. “I hate that Chip wasn’t here to enjoy this. But for our Clover Chevy to be off as far as we were, to have a teammate go win, that’s best case scenario for us. We’ll learn what they did and look through their notebook. We were off all day. It goes to show that we have to keep fighting because we can go to victory lane. We’re not done.”
Kurt Busch was in a playful mood following his win as he jabbed at his younger brother and played to the fans in the front stretch grandstands.
“Hell yeah, we beat Kyle!” he shouted. “I taught that kid everything he knows, he should be grateful. What a battle, what a genuine, old school race track. I just asked the track today since it’s the last time here on your old asphalt can I have an old guy win and she answered. This has been one of those years where I knew we were going to have our back against the wall, trying to get above the cutoff line and race hard and race smart.”
Still, Busch did acknowledge the assistance he received from his teammate.
“Shake and bake,” he joked referencing the movie Talladega Nights. “Yeah, the 42. He did his job as a teammate. Ross is going to get a little flack for it but that’s what it takes to be a good teammate at the right moment so I couldn’t be more proud of Ross Chastain. I’ll pay him back eventually, but right now it’s the No. 1 car in victory lane. It’s wonderful for all of Ganassi.”
But the question remains- Did Chastain really do anything wrong?
While Kyle Busch might not agree, the view provided by NBC did not make it appear as if the No. 42 swerved or made any unnecessary lane changes as the two lead cars approached. While yes, he was in the groove Kyle Busch had been running, he appeared to be showing no signs of unpredictability. As he said, Kurt Busch had asked for the bottom lane but Chastain did not seem to be driving as if he were trying to dodge a cat that had unexpectedly darted in front of him.
Perhaps better communication between the No. 18 driver and spotter could have avoided the situation.
Kyle Busch’s frustration is understandable but it does not appear, at least from the angles television provided, that anything unfair happened. It simply looked like the No. 1 car was in the lane with the cleanest air at the right time.
So this writer’s opinion is that Ross Chastain did not do anything wrong. If he had been swerving unpredictably, then yes, but he did not seem to be. What’s your opinion?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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