Denny Hamlin admitted he was making Ross Chastain’s day more difficult Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway after Chastain sent him into the wall early in the race.
“But I didn’t touch his car,” Hamlin said. “We had a miserable [day]. We went from running up front to limping around a car eight laps down or whatever we were all day. So you’re going to [have] to weigh the odds of when is the right time to make sure they get the message.”
Hamlin hit the wall on lap 65 when Chastain tagged him in the rear bumper going into Turn 1 while battling for sixth place. Not only did Hamlin damage the right side of his Toyota, but the No. 11 team needed to repair the toe link and he spent the rest of the afternoon multiple laps down.
The contact, according to Hamlin, came after Chastain failed to make a pass the few times he previously tried.
“I thought he was just being aggressive,” Hamlin said. “I think he got inside of us, and he kept trying to slide us, and he would wash up the track right into the door for three laps in a row. Then finally, [he] just tucked in behind us and ran into the back of us. It’s a choice you make.”
Chastain likely got the message Hamlin was trying to send even without Hamlin making return contact. Out of contention for a good result, Hamlin repeatedly gave Chastain a hard time when he had the chance as the No. 1 went by with the leaders and Hamlin was getting lapped.
Hamlin even ran Chastain down the apron on the backstretch as the Trackhouse driver tried to pass him on the inside. Dust flew while he was trying to get by Hamlin.
On lap 102, the No. 1 made contact with Chase Elliott, resulting in a spin. It angered Elliot and gave Hamlin another chance to mess with him. On the next restart, on lap 107, Elliott pushed Chastain into Turn 1 and knocked him out of the way, then Hamlin came up the track to crowd him again.
“You only want to pay back when it counts,” Hamlin said. “Once he got done taking out the No. 9 after me, he (Chastain) wasn’t in contention to win anymore. So — I’ve said many times — you’re going to have to fence these guys hard just to kind of get their attention, but it’s going to have to be meaningful. It’s going to be on a meaningful day.”
Despite his actions Sunday, and Elliott also letting Chastain know he was mad, Hamlin said more needs to be done.
“You have to do more than that,” Hamlin said. “There are no warnings. When you make decisions — and obviously he wasn’t shy after our contact — there’s no sense of consciousness there that says, ‘Maybe I’m [being] a bit aggressive.’ That’s his decision to make. He can make any decision he wants to, honestly. He’s his own guy, and he’s been very successful doing what he’s doing.
“But ultimately, yeah, the sport is self-policing, and usually when you least expect it, and when it means the most, is when it comes back around.”