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NASCAR’s Bad Boy Ross Chastain Admits He "Overstepped the Line" At Darlington
Trackhouse Racing’s embattled star got candid about taking heat for his actions during the Goodyear 400.
Ahead of the reopening of the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway for the upcoming NASCAR All-Star Race this weekend, Ross Chastain competed in the CARS Tour Late Model stock car race, finishing in unfamiliar territory at 19th place. After a week drenched in controversy, stemming from Chastain triggering a late-race incident at Darlington with Hendrick Motorsports star driver Kyle Larson, the Watermelon Man’s had a lot on his mind, but he was in the mood to enjoy himself midweek.
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“My fun meter is pegged,” revealed Chastain after Wednesday night’s race. “We were just loose, loose from the moment we unloaded. We just couldn’t get there. Made a lot of changes on the car, but we just kept running the rear tires off it.”
What happened between Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson at Darlington?
Throughout the race, Chastain and Larson had been jockeying for the lead, trading paint with one another all day until a pivotal battle during the final restart derailed both their days. On the prior restart, Larson had pushed Chastain up into the wall, so, on the last restart, Chastain tried to return the favor to his fellow Chevrolet driver, but the maneuver proved far too costly of a gambit. Chastain lost control, became entangled with Larson’s front-left tire and slid up and around Larson’s hood as No. 5 pushed the No. 1 perpendicularly down the track. Chastain’s No. 1 Camaro was scrapped while Larson suffered his own damage and managed to eke out a 20th-place finish.
In the wake of the incident, Chastain has come in for a healthy share of criticism. Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick torched Chastain in a presser after Darlington, firing a crystal clear warning shot at Trackhouse Racing’s driver when he said, “You wreck us, and you’re gonna get it back. ... I expect my guys to hold their ground.” When pressed about whether he had spoken to Hendrick, Chastain confirmed that he had communicated with the championship-winning owner as well Larson, members of Chevrolet and “a lot of other people.”
This comes after throwing a punch at Noah Gragson following an on-track incident the previous week.
Even Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks felt compelled to sit Chastain down for a talk, acknowledging his talented driver had "stuff that has to be cleaned up."
How does Ross Chastain feel about the controversy?
While Chastain’s no stranger to being the talk of the town, he admits that this week’s deluge of criticism has been difficult, noting that his sit-down with Marks added a new dimension to the drama that the Watermelon Man’s used to.
“There’s definitely been a lot thrown at me this week,” said Chastain, according to Motorsport.com. “It all comes from with six laps to go and a mistake on my part. ... It brought a lot of heat down on me. With six laps to go, I have to live with that. I have to live with those decisions.”
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“He [Marks] hired me to drive that car, and I come with my fair share of baggage,” added Chastain. “I will take this and get better. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to run in to somebody again. Like, I don’t want people to think I’m just going to lay over with six laps to go and a chance to win at Darlington.”
“Yes, I overstepped the line,” Chastain continued. “I’m willing to live with that. I’ve tried to move on, and yesterday and today in this car has helped me do that.”
Does Ross Chastain plan to speak with owner Rick Hendrick?
“I feel really good about where we’re at, but I will keep those conversations private,” Chastain offered. “I called Rick. That wasn’t the reason I wanted to be calling him, but it’s not the first time we’ve talked, and I don’t think it will be the last. One day, I hope I’m able to laugh with him about it.”
In addition to reaching out to those he’s affected both on and off the track, Chastain’s spent enough time embroiled in messy situations this year to realize that now’s the time to take ownership over his behavior on the track.
“I deserve every bit of heat and every bad word that’s come my way and ill-will that people are thinking about me,” Chastain said. “I get it. I’ll take it.”
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“The fact of the matter is I’m going to drive my race car to the best of my ability,” he stressed. “If I mess up, I will own that, but I do feel like some other guys ought to own some of their stuff, too.”
While North Wilkesboro Speedway’s miraculous return to Cup Series competition after spending decades in ruin is the topic of conversation heading into this Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star race, it’s only fitting that all eyes will be on Chastain. His fiery track tenacity and blue collar background are a throwback to a revered driver who became a legend on the same asphalt, Junior Johnson. Channeling his inner bootlegging speedster might be just the formula Chastain needs to tune out the noise and find success as he seeks to course-correct his identity and reputation in the NASCAR Cup Series.