Another week, another run-in between Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin. It’s almost become an expected sideshow in the NASCAR Cup Series at this point in the 2022 season.
After several on-track incidents between the two heading into Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the rivalry heated up yet again when Chastain washed up the track in turn 4 with 15 laps remaining in the race.
As Chastain slid up into the left rear quarter-panel of Hamlin’s No. 11 Coca-Cola Toyota Camry, Hamlin, who had just moved past Chastain for fourth spot, went for a spin. In an instant, Hamlin went from contending for a win, to racing deep in the pack.
When asked after the race if Chastain’s aggressive driving style will lead to other drivers becoming hell-bent on Chastain not winning the championship, Hamlin was uncertain but that he’s certainly had enough of Chastain himself.
“I don’t know. I think it’s just everyone has their own tolerance levels, certainly. You guys know, I’ve reached my peak,” Hamlin pointed sharply.
When asked what more he can do to police things between himself and Chastain, Hamlin responded by saying, “It all works itself out in the end.”
To add insult to injury for Hamlin, on the ensuing restart, the driver of the No. 11 car suffered massive damage in another crash, this time with Christopher Bell and Joey Logano.
At the end of the day, Hamlin wound up finishing a frustrating 25th, while Chastain — who triggered a couple of multi-car incidents on Sunday — came home in the runner-up position.
After the race, Chastain chalked the incident with Hamlin up to the damage affecting the handling on his No. 1 car.
“I’ll explain my side to him. I had damage and overestimated how fast I could go into the corner with the draft and I just ran into him,” Chastain explained.
When pressed further, Chastain once again pointed to Sunday’s run-in with Hamlin being different than their past scuffles and he once again referenced the amount of damage he had on his car at the time as the reason.
“This one is so different, because I had so much damage,” Chastain stated. “Y’all know I would take full responsibility if I just ran into him, but I had so much damage, I was so much tighter. We had done a lot to free up the car, but it was just way too tight. I just couldn’t carry the throttle like I did earlier. I still lifted some, but it wasn’t enough. I don’t put this one anywhere near the other incidents.”
While Chastain did indeed have damage prior to the incident with Hamlin, I think that reasoning will ring hallow for Hamlin — a Joe Gibbs Racing driver — as the damage was sustained when Chastain aggressively bump-drafted Hamlin’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. on lap 91, which sent Truex spinning off of Chastain’s front bumper and ended with nine cars wadded up in turn 2.
Hamlin, Truex and the JGR team weren’t the only ones who left Atlanta upset with Chastain.
Austin Dillon, who suffered a major impact in the Lap 91 incident also took exception to Chastain’s driving.
“Looked like we were just a casualty of Ross Chastain once again,” Dillon said after exiting the infield care center.
Dillon continued, “I told myself we were going to race hard all day, it wasn’t going to be one of those things that I wanted to ride at the back and be there at the end, but when you have guys like him out there wrecking half the field, you might as well actually take a different strategy sometimes.”
We’ve seemingly reached a fork in the road for Chastain’s 2022 season. The Trackhouse Racing driver has impressed as he’s secured two victories, a series-high 10 top-five finishes and 13 top-10s (tied for the series-high), but he is piling on enemies just about as quickly as he’s piling up good finishes.
As the season rolls on and the Playoffs begin, drivers are going to be less and less likely to just take getting spun by the No. 1 car without retribution and as we all know racecar drivers never forget, so Hamlin and many more are more than likely already readying their revenge as well.
Chastain very likely could go on to win a championship this season, but unless he cleans things up on the track, he’s likely going to have to dodge retaliatory bullets throughout the Playoffs on his path to pulling it off.