First thing’s first, Ross Chastain isn’t looking to change who he is and what got him to the NASCAR Cup Series.
Chastain, who is having a breakout season with Trackhouse Racing driving the No. 1 Chevrolet, has always been an aggressive driver and one who brings his friends to the racetrack. But the two-time series winner admits he needs to work on some things.
“At the base of it, I don’t need to be crashing cars on lap 55 of a 300-lap race,” Chastain said. “Let’s start there and just use that as the example. If I could just clean up that kind of stuff, race with a little cooler head where I still want to pass these guys, I still want to pass the cars in front of me, but do it a little bit better way.
“I’m all for and I fully embrace being the show sometimes, and I’m OK with that. I’ve accepted that. But I probably don’t need to be it every single week.”
Chastain attracted a lot of attention in June — too much for his liking. There was early contact with Denny Hamlin at World Wide Technology Raceway that resulted in Hamlin messing with Chastain the rest of the race. Later that same day, Chastain also made contact with Chase Elliott, who also made his frustrations known.
Afterward, Chastain expressed remorse for his difficult day, but Hamlin vowed his payback would come when it mattered. Team owner Justin Marks is on the record saying he doesn’t want his driver to change, and he’s all for whatever happens next. Meanwhile, Chastain is being watched, and his driving closely dissected every Sunday afternoon.
Chastain admits his run-in with Hamlin at WWTR was wrong…but not to the degree he suggested afterward. Motorsport Images
But those who have followed Chastain at any NASCAR national level will know this isn’t new. Chastain races hard and doesn’t apologize for doing what he has to do. Or at least, not to the extent that he did after St. Louis.
So why is Chastain now more aware of his actions?
“Well, I’m learning as I go here,” Chastain said. “Gateway (WWTR), if you just want to zoom in on that, I got out of the car, and I truly was sorry that I wrecked Denny into the wall, and I was sorry I spun Chase out. I did not have the intention to do that. Now, Chase was truly a mistake on my part entering Turn 3, and then to put it three-wide was a really bad judgment call. I didn’t need to force that issue at all.
“Denny was 100% I intended to bump him out of the way. The problem was, I did it way too hard, and I was sorry for that. What I didn’t get across in my interview — because I got out of the car and about seven and a half seconds later, here come cameras and microphones — I just froze up a bit and over-apologized. I did. I was sorry that I wrecked him, but I didn’t get across what I was trying to, and I got into this downward spiral that I tend to do and over-apologized.”
Part of why things transpired that way was Chastain realizing he’s where he wants to be, having climbed from the Truck Series to Xfinity to Cup, and he was willing to do anything to get there. But now that he’s at the top level, there needs to be a middle ground of not losing that fire behind the wheel but not putting himself in avoidable situations.
“I’m not going to roll over and stay behind everybody; y’all have seen that since Gateway,” said Chastain. “But how I get out of the car and speak is something I have to evolve, and it has to get better. I can’t ramble on and on about how sorry I am when I just ran into a couple of guys. There needs to be some middle ground. And I did run into Denny on purpose, I just did it way too hard and way too early in the race. I probably should have saved that card for later. But there were reasons I was doing that, and it was because of how we were racing, the things he was doing to me.”
Chastain doesn’t feel he’s a great speaker, and WWTR was an example of him pouring it on too thick. He still references his very first NASCAR interview with Hermie Sadler (that can still be found on YouTube) for how brutal it was.
“I’m finding my sweet spot there on talking to (the media) still,” Chastain said.
Another result of Chastain’s rough month was hearing from his peers whether he asked for their opinions or not. Marks is the supportive team owner while NASCAR television and talk radio have discussed him and Dale Earnhardt Jr. made Chastain’s actions a topic of conversation on his “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast.
No feedback has been unwanted on Chastain’s end.
“I’ll take any opinion and any conversations or any dialogue and then form my own opinion,” Chastain said. “It just so happens that now everybody wants to tell me how great I am or how terrible I am. I have had some people tell me that what I’ve done is definitely wrong and that’s good to hear, and I want to hear that. I want to be better.
“Just because one time in a year gone by that I said something, I don’t want that to be, ‘Oh, that’s Ross.’ We all evolve every day. We have, I don’t know, 70,000 thoughts a day in our brains and I feel like if everybody else on the other side of the screen is trying to be a better person, they probably should realize so am I. Just because I said it a long time ago or even a month ago doesn’t mean that’s how I am today. I’m trying to be better. I want to be faster on a track, a bicycle, and a go-kart. I’m always trying to be better.”