Ross Chastain Had It Coming From Denny Hamlin, Even if NASCAR Disagrees

Just like ordinary, everyday people, every NASCAR driver has a certain breaking point where they’ve had enough, and they refuse to be bullied or pushed around any longer.

For Cup Series veteran Denny Hamlin, that breaking point came two weeks prior to the official start of the 2023 season while participating in the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum — a 150-lap exhibition race held on a makeshift quarter-mile race track in Los Angeles.

Running just ahead of Ross Chastain right before the race’s halfway point, Hamlin lost control of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota when a bump from Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet sent it into the spin cycle.

Treated as an isolated incident, the contact could’ve been viewed as little more than “one of those racing deals” on a short, narrow track where bumping and banging are an inevitable part of the formula for making progress.

But anyone who knows the colorful history that Hamlin and Chastain have together on the race track knows there may have been more to their collision in the Clash than met the eye.

Ross Chastain’s actions over time finally pushed Denny Hamlin over the top

Last season wasn’t Ross Chastain’s first season in the NASCAR Cup Series. It was, however, his first with Trackhouse Racing and his first as a consistent frontrunner. Seemingly not knowing how to manage the speed he’d been suddenly gifted out of nowhere, Chastain made enemies at an alarming rate due to his careless disregard for running into people pretty much wherever and whenever he pleased.

Just in case you’ve forgotten:

  • Chastain wrecked Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap at Dover in May as they battled for a position inside the top five, resulting in the two engaging in a heated exchange on pit road moments after the race. Asked about their conversation, Chastain smirked and told reporters, “We were talking about where we were going to go fishing next week.”
  • Chastain wrecked both Denny Hamlin and perennial NASCAR most popular driver Chase Elliott in separate incidents at World Wide Technology Raceway, aka Gateway, in June. During a post-race interview with FOX Sports’ Jamie Little, Hamlin hinted at future retaliation on Chastain. “We all have learned the hard way,” he said. “We’ve all had it have to come back around on us, and it’ll be no different” (for Chastain).
  • Chastain — again — wrecked both Hamlin and Truex, this time in separate incidents at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July. “Everyone has a different tolerance level, but I’ve reached my peak,” Hamlin told reporters after the race in reference to being punted by Chastain.
  • Chastain spun Kyle Busch at Richmond in August, leading the two-time Cup Series champion to later quip during a post-race interview that he’d been “Chastained.”

In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s six accidents all caused by one driver — Chastain — over a span of roughly four months. Is it really any wonder, then, that Hamlin had gone his limit with the 12th-generation watermelon farmer-turned-racer by the time Chastain ran into him, again, in last month’s preseason event in California?

It’s Ross Chastain’s pattern of aggression — not Denny Hamlin’s honesty — that warrants punishment

Speaking on his weekly podcast, Actions Detrimental, a day after his dustup with Ross Chastain in the Clash at The Coliseum, Denny Hamlin said he initially gave his rival the benefit of the doubt after the two hooked together in Turn 2. But after going back and reviewing the tape, Hamlin changed his mind.

“When I got wrecked by Chastain, I’m just like, “Was it him or was it someone else?’” Hamlin said on his podcast. “It was him — shocker. He just gassed it up early, like he did at Gateway.”

Hamlin then left little doubt that he intended to settle the score with his 30-year-old nemesis somewhere down the road.

 “When your kids misbehave — I’m not calling him a kid, by the way — you’ve just got to keep upping the punishment until it really kind of gets their attention,” the veteran driver said on his podcast. 

Well, Hamlin made good on his word this past weekend at Phoenix Raceway, where he ran Chastain into the wall late in the race and later engaged in a serious discussion with him on pit road. Then, the following day, Hamlin admitted on his podcast to deliberately colliding with last year’s championship runner-up to get even for what happened in the Clash at The Coliseum.

Made aware of Hamlin’s apparently all-too-forthcoming disclosure, NASCAR reacted Wednesday by fining the three-time Daytona 500 champion $50,000 and docking him 25 driver points. 

Had Hamlin not admitted to hitting Chastain on purpose, he would’ve averted a penalty because the sole basis of NASCAR’s ruling was Hamlin’s intent to wreck a competitor intentionally — not Hamlin’s actual move on the race track. So, I guess that’s going to be the way of the world in NASCAR moving forward: If a driver sets out to wreck a fellow competitor and says so in a microphone, they’ll be penalized. Case closed.

This approach is ridiculous on a lot of levels, one of the biggest being that Chastain undoubtedly wrecked Hamlin intentionally at least one of the three times he’s ruined Hamlin’s day in the past nine months. But unlike Hamlin earlier this week, Chastain never admitted to harboring malintent.

Let me stop, though, before I go too far down this rabbit hole. The bigger point is this: Chastain had it coming from Hamlin at Phoenix, regardless of whether Hamlin meant to run into him or not. As I wrote a few days after the Clash at The Coliseum, Chastain can’t expect to continually disrespect his competitors and not pay the price

The problem now is that Hamlin — not Chastain — is quite literally paying the price for the latest chapter in the ongoing saga between these two drivers.

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I firmly believe Hamlin would be perfectly justified to exact even more revenge on Chastain — perhaps in a higher-stakes race later in the year (provided he doesn’t run into Chastain in a way that jeopardizes Chastain’s safety as Bubba Wallace did Kyle Larson’s safety last fall at Las Vegas). Chastain deserves to be held accountable for his misdeeds on the race track a lot more than Hamlin deserves to be punished for simply telling the truth.