NASCAR Cup Series
Polarizing star Ross Chastain addresses criticism: ‘I just need to hit less things’
NASCAR Cup Series

Polarizing star Ross Chastain addresses criticism: ‘I just need to hit less things’

Updated May. 18, 2023 1:50 p.m. ET

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Ross Chastain knows just what he needs to do to avoid conflict in the NASCAR Cup Series garage.

"I just need to hit less things," he said. "It's as simple as that."

That's much easier said than done for the 30-year-old Trackhouse Racing driver, who, by the way, leads the NASCAR Cup Series point standings midway through the regular season.

He hasn't won in more than a year, though, and his constant scrapes with other drivers have drawn ire, most notably from team owner Rick Hendrick after Chastain, for the third time in a month, was involved in an incident.


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The latest came Sunday when battling for the lead at Darlington Raceway. Chastain tried to squeeze Kyle Larson up by the wall but got too far ahead of Larson and ended up turning into him, wrecking both cars with fewer than six laps remaining.

"Together with everything else that's happened, I deserve every bit of heat and every bit of bad word that's came my way and every bit of ill will that people are thinking about me," Chastain said Wednesday.

"I get it. I'll take it. But the fact of the matter is I'm going to drive my race car to the best of my ability. And if I mess up, I will own that."

Chastain was speaking Wednesday night after a 19th-place finish in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, the site of the NASCAR All-Star Race this weekend.

It was cathartic for Chastain to put the helmet on so soon — he practiced the car Tuesday — after not just a disappointing finish Sunday but after a Monday full of phone calls.

Chastain spoke with Hendrick, Larson, Chevrolet executives and his boss — team owner Justin Marks.

Chastain on Darlington wreck

Ross Chastain explains why Darlington did not play out how he expected.

Marks said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he had a tough conversation with Chastain after the latest run-ins, that he will be aggressive in addressing mistakes by a driver who many believe is super talented but just makes too many errors on the track.

"We are a believer in Ross' talent — that is obvious," Marks said. "He is very fast. But he has got some things he's got to clean up.

"We, today, started the process of more aggressively handling that."

Chastain knows that.

"There's definitely been a lot thrown my way this week ... and it comes from six laps to go and a mistake on my part and a quarter-mile of asphalt have brought a lot of heat down on me," said Chastain, who also recently had a physical altercation with Noah Gragson after the Kansas race. "I have to live with that. I have to live with those decisions."

He will also have to live with what Marks said publicly.

"Our conversations will stay internal. What he says publicly, he's fully right," Chastain said. "He's my boss. He can say anything and everything about me as long as he lets me drive that 1 [Trackhouse] car and he keeps helping me be better.

"He hired me to drive that car, and I come with my fair share of baggage. We can make this better. I will be better."

A couple of days after the hard conversations, Chastain was in a good mood.

"It's still crazy for me that Rick Hendrick knows my name," Chastain said. "Now right now, it's for the wrong reasons. But, seriously, he knew my name before."

"Right now, it’s for the wrong reasons"

Ross Chastain said he is still amazed that team owner Rick Hendrick knows his name.

So what changes? Chastain said, "If I drive my car at 90 percent, I'm going to go 10 percent slower" so he just needs to stop hitting things.

And it probably should be said that he needs to stop hitting other cars when making a mistake on the track. During the CARS Tour event, Chastain did get into Dale Earnhardt Jr. as they battled for position.

"Ross is a good dude," Earnhardt said with a laugh. "I got a little taste of what it's like to race against him. He went down there and knocked me up the racetrack going into Turn 1.

"They said he came from two car lengths back to do it."

In speaking for about 15 minutes after the CARS Tour race — a grassroots Southeast-based touring series for drivers who have dreams to make it to Cup but more or less race for the love of the sport — Chastain knew the conversation would turn from Wednesday night to Sunday and the conversations he had regarding the Darlington turmoil.

"The fun meter is pegged," Chastain said. "We didn't run good. ... Nobody can talk to me when I'm in the car except for [my spotter and crew chief].

"No matter what anybody wanted to say to me or about me, they couldn't get to me when I'm in this pink Ambetter [late model] car."

Are Chastain's antics getting old?

Fast Thoughts with Bob Pockrass after Darlington

And no matter what people say, Chastain knows he can't have a clean race every single weekend.

"That doesn't mean I'm never going to run into somebody again," Chastain said. "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. But I'm willing to live with that for a chance at a win. ... I've had to move on. And this [late model] car helped me do that."

What To Watch For

The All-Star Race will be all about racing the racetrack, taking what it gives you and managing what it takes away from you in terms of tire wear.

A fast car at the start of a green-flag run might not be fast 10 laps later. It doesn't sound like shifting will come into play even though it is a short track, which could mean drivers have less of a defense mechanism if they don't hit their marks on a turn.

Top challenge at North Wilkesboro?

The NASCAR Race Hub crew shares how the drivers' ability to keep traction on the racetrack will be the biggest challenge at North Wilkesboro.

With the All-Star Race allowing teams to change to sticker tires only once over the final 100 laps, drivers and crew chiefs will have to figure out when will be the best time to pit. Expect some who might not have the best car to try to pit later and then come through the field on fresher tires.

Thinking Out Loud

A lot will be made of Justin Marks' comments about his driver, Ross Chastain, and having tough conversations with him after Chastain was involved in another incident at Darlington.

Marks has tried to stay out of the media, trying to not insert himself into any feuds his driver has had. But after Rick Hendrick blasted Chastain for taking unnecessary risks, Marks probably needed to comment.

Was Marks just trying to take some of the heat off Chastain? Was Marks just trying to appease Chevrolet and Trackhouse's partners since Chastain has had run-ins with Chevy drivers? Or is Marks frustrated that Chastain hasn't won in more than a year with cars that appear capable of winning — and Chastain capable of putting them in a position to win? After all, Marks knows that a team can only be on top for so long.

It might be a little bit of all of that. But I'd hesitate to think that Chastain is in any immediate shape-up or ship-out type of situation. He's just in a place where a few conversations are needed to make sure that the team isn't condoning a checkers-or-wreckers attitude every week.

Weekly Power Rankings

They Said It

"When that All-Star Race goes green, that's going to be the moment where everybody can finally believe that this is all happening and there is a real future here." —Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the return of NASCAR to North Wilkesboro Speedway

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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