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Ross Chastain’s Boss Sits Him Down for Talk: “I Love the Kid … But There’s Stuff That Has To Be Cleaned Up”
Justin Marks weighed in on his controversial wheelman after he's had several weeks of track dust-ups with his fellow NASCAR drivers, including, most recently, Kyle Larson.
A talk with mom and dad; a call to the principal’s office; the dreaded zoom invite with HR. At one time or another, we’ve presumably all been summoned into the less than desirable situation of being reprimanded or scolded. As awkward as these chats can be, they exist for a reason, primarily because the previous attempts to spark a desired change (or simply deliver a “don’t do that” message) didn't produce the intended result. The sit-downs are management's final attempt to shake some sense into their employees. At least that’s the idea.
Marks made the decision to sit down with Chastain Monday after the No. 1 Chevrolet driver triggered an incident at Darlington with another Chevy driver, Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports. Not only did the incident manage to ruffle the feathers of the often unflappable Larson, Yung Money’s boss Rick Hendrick issued a stern warning to Chastain, saying, “If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back.” And it was just the latest in a string of recent track dust-ups involving Chastain. Let's just say, he's developing something of a reputation.
Speaking about the issue Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR, Marks discussed his attempt to steer Chastain in the right direction.
“We’ve had many conversations with many people today [Monday],” relayed Marks. “Some difficult conversations. I think the important message here is that we are a believer in Ross’ talents. That’s obvious. He’s very fast. But he’s got some things he’s got to clean up, I’ll just be totally honest with you. We today started the process of more aggressively handling that — with our partners, with Ross and with our team. Not necessarily because we’re mad at him, but because there’s so much opportunity here.”
“We’re addressing it,” Marks reiterated. “I’m going to take a more active role in it. I love the kid. I love the opportunity it’s given every single person at Trackhouse to be able to put a championship run together. But there’s stuff that has to be cleaned up, and it’s a process he’s going to have to start going through sooner rather than later.”
While Marks conveys that a sense of urgency is needed, and other drivers like Noah Gragson, Brennan Poole and Kyle Larson might be fed up with the way Chastain competes on the track, there are two sides to every coin, and not everyone believes the Watermelon Man needs to change. In fact, many former Cup Series drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Petty have come to Chastain’s defense, saying he shouldn’t change because the essence of his bold identity – a fearless, take-no-prisoner killer instinct – is what has powered him to success in NASCAR’s top flight to begin with.
That said, there’s no denying that the Watermelon Man’s growing list of altercations is finally wearing down the majority of Race World USA, leaving Marks with really no other recourse than to sit down and have that “difficult” conversation with Chastain about not only what he needs to clean up, but also why he needs to change. Despite what some might deem reckless aggression, Marks definitely sees the upsides of Chastain far outweighing the negative, which is why he stressed his support for his embattled driver.
“Ross drove a great race [Sunday],” Marks said. “He made good decisions in the first and second stages and not racing guys super hard, letting a couple of people go, managing that give and take.”
“Then, it all kind of fell apart at the end. [If] Ross clears Kyle and makes that pass and wins the throwback weekend at Darlington seven days after a scuffle on pit road, then the guy is a legend. He’s got the skill to do that; he’s got the ability to do that. The result was just bad — bad for everybody. It was bad for Hendrick, bad for Chevrolet, bad for Trackhouse and for Ross as the points leader.”
The conundrum for so many is that, while his brash style may invite conflict, Chastain is just so damn great on the track. He currently sits 10th in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, and, though he has yet to win a checkered flag this season, no one has more than his 429 points. He’s notched an impressive six top-10 finishes, including five top-fives. His talent behind the wheel is just absolutely undeniable.
So, the question then becomes what are we asking him to truly change? If his aggression on the track wanes, will races be as entertaining? If that happens, will we appreciate him as much for the great driver that he is? Or, if we all really take a step back, do we even want him to change in the first place? The NASCAR Cup Series has a long, storied history of heroes and villains that played a critical role in molding the sport. As Corey LaJoie said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, “the fans don’t want drivers to get along; they just don’t.” So, like it or not, Chastain might just be the villain we need, not the one we want.