Skip to main content

Last season, when Ross Chastain made a reputation for himself as a driver who was prone to run into everything but the pace car, you could almost excuse his often out-of-control behavior.

After all, this was his first season as a consistent frontrunner in the NASCAR Cup Series, and everyone — Chastain included — was adapting to the handling characteristics of a new car that had never been on the track in any official capacity until the 2022 Daytona 500.

So, it was possible to chalk the Floridian’s continued pattern of overly aggressive driving up to inexperience and ultimately give him a pass of sorts.

However, it’s 2023 now, and Chastain’s grace period is over. It’s time for him to tone it down a notch, or a couple of notches, and stop wrecking people just because he can. Sadly, though, early signs suggest this isn’t his intention.

Ross Chastain’s numerous run-ins put a damper on an otherwise spectacular 2022

Ross Chastain enters his car ahead of Clash at the Coliseum qualifying.
Ross Chastain hasn’t been shy on the race track, and the other drivers have noticed. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

As a first-year driver for Trackhouse Racing, Ross Chastain earned his first and second career win in NASCAR’s top division last season and made it all the way to the Championship 4 round of the playoffs, where he finished runner-up to Joey Logano in the standings, falling just one position shy of his first title.

It was, by all accounts, an incredible year for the eighth-generation watermelon farmer, who proved beyond a shadow of any doubt that he has the talent to compete for wins and championships for years to come. 

Unfortunately, though, Chastain’s 2022 success came at a great cost — his reputation. Multiple run-ins with multiple drivers, including veteran superstars Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch, put a big stain on an otherwise stellar season for Chastain and left the 29-year-old needing to do some major damage repair in 2023 if he hopes to regain some of the respect he lost last year.

The only problem? The 2023 season hasn’t even officially started, and Chastain is already driving over his head again and barking up the same trees he did in 2022 — which you most certainly witnessed if you watched the preseason Clash at The Coliseum exhibition race on February 5.

Ross Chastain was up to his familiar tricks in the Clash at The Coliseum

While the 150-lap Clash at The Coliseum — held on a tight, quarter-mile makeshift track in Los Angeles — featured an inevitable amount of bumping and banging among the competitors, some of the contact that occurred was avoidable.

This absolutely appeared to be the case when Ross Chastain drilled Denny Hamlin in the left rear quarter panel on Lap 73, sending Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the spin cycle and effectively out of contention.

Chastain’s move wouldn’t have drawn nearly as much attention or scrutiny, however, had it not been for the fact that this is the third time Chastain has wrecked Hamlin since last summer. Their first dustup came in the June race at World Wide Technology Raceway, aka, Gateway, where Chastain knocked Hamlin out of the way and ruined Hamlin’s day. Then, the following month at Atlanta, Chastain spun Hamlin again, prompting Hamlin to promise retaliation at some point in the future.

But in the Clash — unlike on the two occasions last season when Chastain was the perpetrator of Hamlin’s misfortune — Hamlin initially gave Chastain the benefit of the doubt, thinking the bump from his 2022 nemesis may have been the result of an accordion effect where multiple cars ran into each other.

“When I got wrecked by Chastain, I’m just like, “Was it him or was it someone else?’” Hamlin said on the first episode of his new weekly podcast, Actions Detrimental.

Hamlin later reviewed the replay and reached a more definitive conclusion: Chastain — and no one else — was at fault.

“It was him — shocker,” Hamlin said on the podcast. “He just gassed it up early, like he did at Gateway.”

Then Hamlin, who never quite got around to returning the favor on Chastain last season, once again dropped a strong hint that he’s planning to give the Trackhouse Racing driver his due.

“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,” Hamlin said on the podcast. 

The veteran driver also seemed baffled as to why, knowing their history together, Chastain didn’t put forth somewhat of an effort to avoid wrecking him in the Clash.

“It’s amazing that there’s no self-awareness,” Hamlin said on his podcast. “It’s like space land. I don’t know what’s going on in the head, but we’ll see.”

Payback is coming for Ross Chastain, and he’d better brace for it

Has Ross Chastain learned anything from his mistakes from a season ago? Or does he quite literally not give a rip what anyone thinks of him?

Somehow, the Florida native managed to avoid any major retribution last season from the drivers he angered. But if he thinks he’s going to continue running over people and not eventually get some in return, well, he’s sadly mistaken.

With an entire season ahead and ample opportunities for vengeance, it’s not a matter of if Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, and others Chastain has ticked off will settle the score. It’s a matter of when.

And that’s especially true if Chastain continues to drive recklessly, with no regard for anyone else’s outcome, as he did when racing Hamlin in the Clash. So to Chastain, I say: “Buckle up, big boy. The chickens are coming home to roost.”

In other words: Until Chastain starts showing at least some level of respect for those with whom he shares a race track, he’s going to be in imminent danger of forceful retaliation — from multiple drivers. And when it comes, maybe several times, he won’t have anyone to blame but himself.


NASCAR Cleverly Banned Ross Chastain’s ‘Hail Melon’ in a Flurry of Other Announcements