Ross Chastain once again bumped his way to a good finish in this past Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and now might be set up for an entertaining championship duel with the winner. So long as he can keep his growing number of rivals at bay anyway.
Chastain finished runner-up to points leader Chase Elliott on Sunday, but that was after he spun Martin Truex Jr. in Stage 2 and Denny Hamlin with 13 laps left in the event. Both drivers were running inside the top 10 at the time of the incidents.
Ross Chastain has tangled multiple times with Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin
Truex Jr. rallied back to ninth by the end of the race, but Hamlin wrecked again with six laps remaining after he restarted in the back of the field. Hamlin finished 25th and said he has “reached his peak” in terms of frustration with Chastain.
The Hamlin tussle comes after Chastain wrecked him 66 laps into the race four weeks prior at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Hamlin then pestered Chastain whenever the field came around to lap Hamlin, who was relegated to a 34th-place finish in a damaged car.
Truex and Chastain had their previous issue in May at Dover Motor Speedway. Chastain blocked Truex Jr. on the backstretch during the final lap, which caused the latter to wreck. Chastain held onto his third-place spot, but Truex Jr. dropped to 12th.
Hamlin and Truex Jr. are both in line to be in the NASCAR Playoffs and are veterans who could be favored to advance deep into the playoffs and compete for a spot in the Championship 4, which means they will likely have opportunities to affect Chastain’s progress in the playoffs.
“We all have learned the hard way,” Hamlin said after the St. Louis race. “We’ve all had it come back around on us, and, you know, it will be no different.”
Chastain also turned Elliott later in the race at WWT Raceway. Chastain tried to make a three-wide move between Elliott on the outside and Austin Dillon (who was upset with Chastain at Atlanta after being collected in the Stage 2 wreck) on the inside. He made contact with Elliott as the group came out of Turn 4 and spun the No. 9 car.
Elliott showed his displeasure in similar fashion to how Hamlin handled his situation with Chastain. Elliott made life difficult for Chastain when the No. 1 car was in his vicinity.
Yet, if Chastain can dodge all of the drama-filled rivalries he has created through the first half of the season, the 2022 championship battle could be at its best if he and Elliott are the two drivers up front at the end of the season finale at Phoenix Raceway to compete for the title.
Chastain and Chase Elliott have been the most consistent drivers this season
Chastain has been the breakout surprise of the season. He entered the year with three career top-five finishes before Trackhouse Racing bought out his Chip Ganassi Racing team and paired him with teammate Daniel Suarez.
Chastain now leads the Cup Series with 10 top-fives, and his 13 top-10 results are tied with Elliott for the most in the series.
The two drivers were also tied for the series lead with 13 playoff points as they headed to Atlanta before Elliott gained a full seven with his win and sweep of both stages.
Ryan Blaney is sandwiched between Elliott (first) and Chastain (third) in the current points standings, but Elliott and Chastain are the top two drivers of the season in terms of average finishing position. Elliott leads with a 10.8 mark, and Chastain follows at 11.4.
Both Chastain and Elliott are the two hottest drivers on the circuit, as well. Chastain has three consecutive top-fives and has finished inside the top 10 in six of the last seven races. Elliott has won two of the last three races and finished second in the other at Road America after leading a race-high 36 laps.
A Chastain-Elliott championship bout would also be intriguing based on the organizations that field their cars.
Trackhouse is a start-up team in its second year of existence that has taken the sport by storm. It has three combined wins and 661 laps led between its drivers.
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports, meanwhile, is the winningest organization in the history of the sport with 287 race victories in 39 years. HMS also has won the last two Cup Series championships with Elliott in 2020 and Kyle Larson in 2021.
Plenty of other drivers will take their shots at the 2022 title, but a newcomer versus an established champion struggle for the championship between Chastain and Elliott might be the most captivating of all.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference