It’s no secret that Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain haven’t exactly gotten along on the race track this season. Multiple incidents between the two have resulted in torn up race cars and brought promises of retribution along with acknowledgement that certain acts have been deserved. It’s safe to say that both the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet have each had chances to end days in victory lane taken away by these confrontations.
With the NASCAR Playoffs fast approaching and both drivers and their teams locked in to the championship run, the feud between them caries with it the possibility of having even greater consequences than bent fenders and angry feelings. Not only in theory but in reality, a much-coveted championship could be lost if these high speed disagreements continue.
But of the two drivers, it is Hamlin who has the most to lose from continued confrontation.
The 41-year-old driver from Chesterfield, Virginia is sometimes referred to a ‘the best driver to have never won a championship’. Depending on perspective, that could be interpreted in two ways. First, the Chesterfield, Virginia driver has had a great career that has resulted in a total of 48 career NASCAR Cup Series wins. But on the other hand, he has not yet achieved the goal most NASCAR drivers strive for.
At his age and the fact that he is now a co-owner of 23XI Racing, it has to be assumed that there will not be too many more chances for Denny Hamlin the racer to dispense with that ‘best driver to never win a championship’ label.
There’s no way a tit-for-tat rivalry serves anyone well in the Playoffs. But perhaps an even bigger problem could present itself during that ten-race stretch that will ultimately decide the 2022 titlist. If the aftermath of a Hamlin-Chastain dustup claims another driver as collateral damage, another person seeking revenge might be introduced into the mix.
That very thing happened in the recent Cup race at Pocono when Hamlin squeezed Chastain into the turn one wall on a late-race restart. When Chastain’s car spun down the track the oncoming Ford of Kevin Harvick was collected and damaged. Not only was Chastain’s chance at a win taken away but so was Harvick’s.
Such a play at the wrong time with the wrong driver may bring about consequences that could end a championship run. And for what??? Just to say, ‘I got him back for when he ran into me’. Years down the road that won’t be as satisfying as a championship trophy on the mantle.
Chastain has much less to lose than Hamlin. After all, the idea of contending for a title is foreign to him and his relatively new team. Further, at just the 29-year-old driver from Alva, Florida in theory will have many more chances. Unlike Hamlin, time is not running out for the driver known as the ‘Watermelon Man’.
Hamlin seems to be a big picture kind of guy. This is illustrated by the fact that he has entered into the role of ownership which should allow him to remain in the sport beyond his driving years. Getting caught up in a petty feud, however, is not big picture thinking.
And a final thing to consider is that there are absolutely no guarantees regarding the length of a driver’s career. The current situation involving Hamlin’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch clearly illustrates that. A sponsor’s sudden change of heart or the rise of a younger and cheaper driver can interfere with a proven veteran’s future plans.
Yes, Ross Chastain may have angered Denny Hamlin with his driving style. But when all of the above is taken into consideration, it would be best for Hamlin to just let that anger go and focus on winning a championship.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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