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Why Ross Chastain Wasn't Penalized for Punching Noah Gragson
The Watermelon Man decked the Cup Series rookie in a post-race altercation in Kansas.
After Ross Chastain punched Noah Gragson in the jaw on pit road in Kansas Sunday, the million-dollar question buzzing around Race World USA was how NASCAR would handle this? Now, it appears legions of curious fans along with competing drivers and the pugilists themselves can breathe easy as the league confirmed Tuesday that it would not be dishing out penalties to either Chastain or Gragson for their roles in the post-race fracas.
What led to Ross Chastain punching Noah Gragson at Kansas?
Although his car was never touched, Gragson took offense to Chastain running up on him as the two banked around Turn 4, and once the AdventHealth 400 concluded, Legacy Motor Club’s rookie driver confronted the Watermelon Man, grabbing his fire suit as they exchanged words. Chastain then grabbed Gragson’s fire suit and could be heard saying, ‘Stop’ just before he connected with a crisp blow to Gragson’s cheek. Following the fisticuffs, Chastain explained in his own words what happened.
“I definitely crowded him up off of [Turn] 4, and he took a swipe at us on [Turn] 3, and then he came down and grabbed ahold of me, and a very big man once told me we have a ‘no push’ policy at Trackhouse,” Chastain said, according to NASCAR.com.
Naturally, Gragson’s version of the story was a bit more colorful.
“He just fenced us off of [Turn] 4 [with] 60 laps to go in the race,” noted Gragson, according to Frontstretch. “I don’t get it. Completely used us up and fenced the s–t out of us. … I’m sick and tired of it, and the guy just runs into everyone. … Everybody else races super hard but super respectful, and you got one douchebag in the field who doesn’t.”
What did NASCAR say about Ross Chastain punching Noah Gragson?
NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer revealed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” how the league’s sanctioning body reached its conclusion not to penalize either of the Cup Series drivers.
“We’ve looked at that, we’ve talked about it and we’ll continue to have conversations with Ross and Noah,” state Sawyer, according to Beyond The Flag. “As we’ve said before, our sport is an emotional sport. Our guys, again, using Sunday, everybody was on the edge, so when you felt like your day hasn’t gone the way you had hoped it would, and someone may have impacted that in a way that you’re not happy, you’re gonna show your displeasure.”
“We’ll continue to have some dialogue with those two organizations to make sure we’re in a good place. … They got to a level there that, obviously, we would have preferred not to have seen, but they were both showing their displeasure of what happened. But again, it’s an emotional sport, and from time to time, you are going to have disagreements, and you’re gonna see that.”
Does the league have any guardrails in place to prevent fights between drivers?
Well, as of this season, yes. After many high-octane confrontations last season, including Bubba Wallace going after Kyle Larson, NASCAR decided the rulebook needed some modifying. The new addition, according to Motorsport.com, gives NASCAR the authority to fine, suspend and/or revoke membership for “Member-to-member confrontation(s) with physical violence (e.g. striking another Competitor) and other violent manifestations such as significant threat(s) and/or abuse and/or endangerment.”
The melee in pit road was broken up by NASCAR security officials nearly as quickly as it started, leaving zero chance that Gragson would land a retaliatory strike against Chastain. Sawyer spoke about the responsibility of league security in those situations, complimenting them as well as other members from Trackhouse Racing and Legacy Motor Club for giving the two wheelmen enough space.
“Our security people did get involved, and they will get involved,” Sawyer added in the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. “They’ll let them have their space in order to talk, but once it rises to a level like it did on Sunday, they’re going to get involved and break it up. They all handled it very well.”
How have current and former drivers responded to Chastain and Gragson’s fight in Kansas?
It’s been an interesting, mixed bag of responses, especially considering Denny Hamlin, who’s endured his own feud with Chastain, seemed to side with the Watermelon Man as Bob Pockrass showed him the video of Chastain punching the rookie Gragson. After watching the altercation, Hamlin chuckled, saying, “He [Chastain] told him [Gragson] to stop.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an even more curious takeaway from watching the now infamous Watermelon Punch at Kansas, lobbing some extremely high praise for Chastain as he compared the Florida native to his own legendary father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. On his podcast show, Junior drew the comparison in an effort to outline how the Chastain-Gragson incident “is NASCAR’s opportunity to turn Ross Chastain into from a superstar in the NASCAR bubble to a national star in the mainstream.”
“They created a persona through marketing through souvenirs that went nationwide,” revealed Earnhardt Jr. “The Intimidator, the Man in Black – you know where you saw those for the first time? On a hat. On a T-shirt. That was a marketing campaign. It took off. It became a persona.”
“[With Chastain,] we’re there,” he added. “Where’s my ‘Droppin’ the Hammer’ Ross T-shirt?”
While Junior’s comparison to his beloved father enraged several fans on Twitter, he’s not the only driver of yesteryear to heap high praise on the Watermelon Man. NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty also praised Chastain while detailing why his aggressive driving style continues make waves throughout the rest of the Cup Series field and beyond.
“Everybody likes to complain about Ross Chastain … because what happens is when you have a new guy, running at the sharp end of the stick – winning races and challenging the establishment – people are going to complain,” Petty explained. “Get off of Ross Chastain’s back. Here’s the deal – Ross Chastain drives like Richard Petty, like Cale Yarborough, like Dale Earnhardt Sr. did in a lot of ways. Like Joey Logano does, he has one purpose: it’s to win the race.”
“He didn’t come to make friends,” Petty continued. “He didn’t come to bake you a cake, to sing happy birthday to you, to hang out with you in the bus lot. He came to take your trophy and to take your money, and that’s what he does on a fairly consistent basis. He is the new kid on the block, and none seems to like the new kid on the block.”
“Is he aggressive? Yes,” he added. “Is that okay? It’s okay with me, [and it] should be okay with you."