Did Ross Chastain actually say the right things after Gateway?

Ross Chastain (Getty Images)

It has been well documented by now that Ross Chastain had an adventurous afternoon on Sunday in the Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Illinois. Two incidents that either eliminated or hindered the chances of popular top contenders were attributed to the driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. And some of those drivers showed their displeasure to their offending rival throughout the remainder of the day.

On lap 66 the Chastain driven machine made contact with the rear bumper of Denny Hamlin’s car sending the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the outside wall. That incident brought about a situation in which Hamlin would limp around the track at slow speed for the rest of the afternoon with a 34th place finish being the ultimate result.

Needless to say, Hamlin was not happy with Chastain following the contact.

Not long after green flag racing action resumed, Chastain again found himself in the midst of controversy when his car tagged that of Chase Elliott sending the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for a spin. Bubba Wallace and others also received certain degrees of damage in that multi-car melee.

Elliott went on to finish 21st at the end of the day.

Following the restart from the Elliott spin, the 2020 NASCAR champion bumped Chastain sending him up the track and almost out of control. At that point, Hamlin came along and side-swiped Chastain’s car. Further, Hamlin then impeded Chastain for two laps by holding him up and almost causing the Trackhouse car not make the minimum speed required to reset the Damaged Vehicle Policy clock.

Following the race, an apologetic Chastain spoke to Jamie Little of NASCAR on Fox.

“It was terrible driving, Jamie,” Chastain admitted. “I just, it’s one thing to to do it once but I just kept driving into guys. At this level I’m supposed to be better than that. It’s a shame. I had all these people believing in me, Justin Marks and Pitbull, to put me in this car and they deserve better.”

Chastain would eventually finish 8th at Gateway but there is a bigger prize awaiting. The 29-year-old driver from Alva, Florida currently sits third in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. The two victories he has recorded so far in 2022 have locked him into the NASCAR Playoffs as he leads the series with seven top-5 finishes.

But did his championship hopes suffer a setback after he angered other top drivers? Will retaliation be forthcoming?

Chastain believes that will indeed be the case.

“I owe half the field an apology and words aren’t going to fix it,” he declared. “I’ll have to pay for it on the track, I almost did today, and I deserve everything that they do. I can’t believe that I continue to make the same mistakes and overdrive the corners and drive into guys. I had time under caution to get reset and we go green and I drive into somebody. It’s terrible.”

All of this raises a couple of key questions.

First, did Chastain’s apology serve any real purpose? If, as he believes, retribution is on its way then ‘words aren’t going to fix it’. So why offer the words?

Obviously in the heat of the moment just after getting out of his car the natural reaction was to show contrition. But maybe embracing the role of villain might have suited him better. Everyone was already mad, so instead of apologizing, throw out something to the effect of ‘That’s just racing’ or ‘I have to do what’s best for me and my team’.

Ross Chastain in the No. 1 Trackhouse Chevrolet

Nobody likes to get booed but what he said in his post-race interview is going to keep the boos from happening. After all, he wrecked two of the sport’s more popular stars. Again, embrace the black hat. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, and most of all, Dale Earnhardt sold or have sold a lot of T-shirts by accepting that role.

Of course, Chastain doesn’t have the credentials of those drivers mentioned but there are always those out there who want to go against the grain and cheer for the one who is disliked by everybody else.

Second, is there actually going to be any retaliation? Yes, we saw Elliott and Hamlin act on Sunday but how many times have we heard something to the effect of ‘He is going to get it’ only to never actually see anything come about beyond the actual day of the offense?

Put the ball in their court. The offended have to remember that when carrying out some act of revenge they might also hurt their own chances in a particular race of even the championship.

Did Ross Chastain actually say the right things after Gateway? Most people will probably answer that he did. But maybe he didn’t in terms of helping his own cause. Other drivers tend to race more gingerly around those who have a reputation for aggression.

Let’s be clear, Ross Chastain isn’t any of those ‘villain’ drivers mentioned above. That said, though, Earnhardt didn’t get the nickname ‘The Intimidator’ by apologizing.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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