After latest NASCAR wreck, Denny Hamlin has had it with Ross Chastain: ‘I’ve reached my peak’
If Ross Chastain previously thought payback from Denny Hamlin was on hold, he might want to reconsider that because, as Hamlin put it Sunday after the Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he’s “reached (his) peak” when it comes to Chastain’s on-track aggression.
Previously, the two drivers had a bit of a feud stemming from an incident at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway back in early June — when Chastain also tangled with Chase Elliott.
And the tension between Chastain and Hamlin only increased Sunday when Chastain, again, wrecked Hamlin, this time with only a few laps to go in the NASCAR Cup Series race, which Elliott ended up winning. Now, Hamlin’s had it with the No. 1 Chevrolet driver.
Let’s break it down.
What happened between Hamlin and Chastain at Atlanta?
By the end of the 260-lap race on Atlanta’s 1.540-mile track Sunday, both Hamlin and Chastain were running in the top five. With about 15 laps to go, Hamlin was running fourth while Chastain was fifth, behind leader Martin Truex Jr., Corey LaJoie and Elliott.
But as the field was coming into Lap 247, Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet made contact with the left-rear quarter panel of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. The incident sent Hamlin sideways across the track — and Brad Keselowski into the grass — as Chastain made seemingly unavoidable contact with the No. 11 car again before Hamlin spun out.
Here’s another angle from Hamlin’s car:
Chastain ended up finishing second to Elliott, while Hamlin was knocked down to 25th.
A quick recap of Chastain and Hamlin at Gateway in June
As we mentioned, this is hardly the first clash between Chastain and Hamlin this season, and it’s important context to briefly revisit what happened last month.
In the first half of the Gateway race in early June, Chastain drove into Hamlin’s left-rear bumper, which forced Hamlin up the track and into the outside wall with his car offering a lot of damage. (Chastain also got into it with Elliott in this race too.)
While Hamlin retaliated a little during the remainder of the race, he emphasized afterward how NASCAR is a self-policing sport, “and usually when you least suspect it and when it means the most is when it comes back around.”
What Hamlin said about Chastain after Atlanta
Needless to say, Hamlin was far from pleased with Chastain after the No. 11 car went from running in the top five with just 15 laps left to finishing 25th and a lap down.
When asked at what point has Chastain crossed the lines too many times, Hamlin said told NBC Sports after the race, “It’s all in whatever level I’m willing to take. It’s just another unfortunate circumstance for him. … I think it’s just that everyone has their different tolerance levels certainly, but you guys know I’ve reached my peak.”
Hamlin later added, via NASCAR.com:
“It all works out in the end. I said my piece the first time around, and nothing really had changed this time. … I made sure I gave plenty of room up on the high side. I think Ross probably saw that we were going to clear [him]. Probably wasn’t going to be great for his positioning, but just a bad day for us.”
When asked about retaliation this time, Hamlin added:
“Things just work themselves out in the end. We certainly aren’t cutting any breaks going forward, but beyond that, it’s just… As a driver, you make decisions — and I talked about those decisions — and eventually, you gotta pay for those decisions that you make and whatever happens in the future happens. But we’re going to be racing each other pretty hard for the rest of the season.”
Hamlin also had this reaction on Twitter, although he doesn’t seem to be taking credit for the video meme his account posted:
What Chastain said about wrecking Hamlin
While Hamlin connected Sunday’s Atlanta contact with what happened at Gateway last month, Chastain says he sees them as very different incidents. This time, Chastain blamed his car’s handling on the front damage it suffered after he got into the back of Truex’s No. 19 Toyota on Lap 91.
“This one’s so different because I had so much damage,” Chastain told reporters, via NBC Sports. “Y’all know that 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 the car up, and it was just way too tight. And I just couldn’t carry the throttle I could earlier, and I still lifted some but it wasn’t enough. So I don’t put this one anywhere near the other incidents.”
“We had a lot of damage to repair and get it turning again,” said Chastain via NASCAR.com. “And we had to completely shift the balance of the car. … I should have lifted more and just slid up and was tight. I knew I was gonna be tight, it was just down to the end and I just overestimated the grip level and was sliding. And his left-rear is what caught me.”
And per NBC Sports, Chastain said he “definitely will” reach out to Hamlin to figure things out “because (he) was working toward a better relationship.”
What do others in NASCAR have to say?
Things like this happen in NASCAR relatively often. But as Chastain continues to lose friends on the track with his aggressive driving style, at some point, someone is going to offer retribution — and, as Hamlin said, it could come at the least opportune time.
And this was noted, as Chastain is a two-time winner so far in 2022 and a championship contender, on NBC’s race broadcast immediately after the wreck. Longtime Hendrick Motorsports crew chief and now NBC analyst Steve Letarte said:
“This is the frustration, I think, drivers have with Ross Chastain. When you interview him, he talks about how he’s gonna try to do it differently and race differently, and then here we are. He just climbs the banking. I’m sure his car is probably not handling as he hoped, but his contact spins Denny Hamlin out.”
In agreement with Letarte, former driver turned broadcaster Jeff Burton said:
“Chastain is gonna have to make a decision on what does he want to do. … He’s gonna have to clean these things up. He’s a professional race car driver, he’s a winner, he’s a championship contender! You just can’t continue to do these types of things.”
NBC’s broadcast team listened in to the radio audio from Chastain and the No. 1 team, and the driver took responsibility and said he should have lifted, a note Burton gave. But after hearing Chastain say it was his fault, Burton added, speaking to fellow broadcaster Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
“OK, ‘My fault.’ But it keeps happening. I love Ross Chastain. He’s a really good race car driver, but he’s got to find a way, Junior, to run these races without constantly making contact. … He won’t win a championship because they won’t let him win a championship if he doesn’t clean it up.”
Earnhardt added: “Yeah, I want him to change, but I don’t want him to change.”