Appears as if Larson made sure Chastain’s Darlington mistake would cost him

Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson crash while racing for the lead at Darlington

Ross Chastain has run afoul of Kyle Larson on more than one occasion during the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. On Sunday afternoon in the Goodyear 400 at the Darlington Raceway, the run-in between the two competitors would ultimately cost both a shot at the race win.

On a restart with six laps to go in the event, Chastain started on the inside of the front row with Larson to his outside. When the cars reached turn one, Chastain moved further and further up on the track until Larson was pressed completely against the wall but the No. 1 Chevrolet continued to move higher. Eventually, Chastain’s right rear came in contact with Larson’s left front sending him nose first into the SAFER Barrier.

It should be noted here that on a previous restart, Larson had used the inside line to crowd Chastain. However, neither car crashed as a result of that move by the 2021 Cup champion.

Darlington was not the first time Chastain and Larson had been involved in the same incident. During the first stage in the recent race at Dover Motor Speedway, Chastain bumped the slower car of Brennan Poole sending him for a spin that eventually collected Larson and ruined any chance he might have had of winning the race.

“I would understand in the third stage or something but that was in the middle of the first stage and to make an error like that, and his errors never affect him negatively,” Larson said after the Dover race. “I’m not saying anything about that, I just find it funny how he always comes out on the good end.”

But it was after the initial crash between the two competitors at Darlington when it appeared as if Larson decided to make a point. Rather than let off the gas so both cars could right themselves and go to the pits for repairs, the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet appeared to continue accelerating as if Larson was trying to bulldoze Chastain. After going the length of turn two in that formation, Chastain’s car finally spun off of Larson’s nose sending it into the outside wall then down to the track apron.

Chastain retired from the race at that point scoring a finish of 29th while Larson limped on to take a 20th place result.  It is worth noting that Chastain currently leads the Cup Series standings, but with no wins yet to his credit, he is not necessarily guaranteed to spot in the NASCAR Playoffs. Larson is 10th in the standings but his two wins essentially have him locked into the Playoffs.

HMS owner Rick Hendrick addressed Chastain’s driving style following the Darlington issue.

“I think if you ask any driver in here that he’s been involved with, he doesn’t have to be that aggressive,” Hendrick stated during a post-race interview at Darlington Raceway. “You don’t just run people up in the fence. He’s not going to, he’s going to make a lot of enemies, it’s hard to win a championship when you’ve got a lot of paybacks out there. He’s got so much talent that I think if he would just calm down. 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.”

It would seem likely that Chastain will pick up a win at some point before the cutoff for the NASCAR Playoffs takes place. His Trackhouse Racing team continues to give him great cars. But, will Hendrick’s statement that too many people owe Chastain payback prevent him from making the same type of run at a title as last year when he finished second to Joey Logano?

Trackhouse principle owner Justin Marks addressed his driver’s mistakes in an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“He’s got some things he’s got to clean up. We, today, started a process of more aggressively handling that.”

The simple truth of the matter is that these types of incidents are bound to happen in a system that offers the reward of a Playoff appearance to race winners. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But sometimes that desperation leads to disaster as was the case for Chastain and Larson at Darlington.

Larson appeared to make absolutely certain that Chastain would be negatively impacted by his mistake at Darlington.

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

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