Ross Chastain has worked long and hard to be a successful race car driver. Now, at the top of his game with Trackhouse Racing, he’s leading the NASCAR Cup Series points going into Darlington Raceway (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, FS1).
With success — be it winning races or leading in points — comes more attention both on and off the racetrack. Sometimes that attention isn’t the good kind…
“On the track, I’m comfortable making these guys uncomfortable, and that’s not always going to come across well, but I’m OK,” Chastain said Saturday. “Get out of the car, and I’m learning to become comfortable in this role. I’m not the guy that grew up wanting to be on camera. I wanted to be like my dad – I wanted to farm watermelons, I wanted to be like all the other guys in our town that we knew that I grew up around.
“I wanted to drive my three-quarter-ton diesel truck to the farm and work and grow a crop and go home. Out there in the field, you can go all day and never see anybody if you want to. Everybody thinks about Florida and the beaches, but you come inland where we’re at, and there’s nobody out there. It’s something I’m growing into off the track. Sometimes I’ll get on camera — and I see it when I watch it back – I’ll kind of bring my jaw in and protect, in my mind.”
Chastain protected himself last week at Kansas Speedway by getting in the first – and only – punch on Noah Gragson on pit road after the race. Confronted by an upset Gragson, who grabbed his fire suit, the Trackhouse driver told Gragson to stop and then threw the punch. NASCAR security quickly intervened.
Gragson is just one of a handful of drivers who have been vocal about the way Chastain races over the last year. There were multiple run-ins with Denny Hamlin last season as well as the Busch Light Clash earlier this year, plus an incident at Phoenix Raceway. The latter led to Hamlin being penalized since he initiated the contact and admitted it afterward on his podcast.
Kyle Busch has said Chastain hasn’t learned from any of the issues. Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon are two others who took issue with Chastain last season.
“Just being myself is the best thing I can do, and if people like it, they do,” Chastain continued. “I’d say (Friday) night at the Truck (Series) race, it was maybe 70/30 cheers to boos. I’m interested to see what Sunday is. But no matter what, I’m proud to be moving the needle.
“I hear it. I see it. People come to me, either online or in person, and they’re telling me the good and the bad, and I kind of just walk away, and I’m like, ‘That’s pretty wild that they’re watching my racing, and they care that much.’ I’m learning to become comfortable in that role, too.”
There appears no lingering tension between Chastain and Gragson, who see each other throughout the week in their training program. The two spoke on the phone Monday after Kansas and they’re in a good place moving forward.
“We both went to Millbridge (Speedway) on Monday night with the Chevy program and ran micros, had a blast, and just bonded over fast little sprint cars,” Chastain said. “It was good, laughing and joking; been good with him all week.”