Sunday, September 2, 2018

Chastain has Solid Debut; Leaves Harvick Pissed at Darlington

Ross Chastain was given an opportunity to show the racing world just how talented he is in a racecar. He took that opportunity to the fullest on Saturday in the Sport Clips 200 at Darlington Raceway. In the process, he battled two NASCAR champions. In the end, one was all smiles in victory lane why the other was left steaming at the ears.

Chastain has over 200 career starts in NASCAR’s top three series, dating back to 2011. The Florida driver is perhaps known more for his connections to the watermelon industry than his raw talent. He is the son of a watermelon farmer and his family’s racing pedigree goes back two generations. His connections in watermelons paved the way for Chastain’s move up the racing ladder, but that funding has not been able to get him into premiere equipment.

For the past four seasons, Chastain has raced for JD Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and for Premium Motorsports in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series the past two. While JD Motorsports is a respected team in the series, the ability for the team to provide the resources needed to compete as been limited. The team has struggled to meet the needs required for a championship run. It’s clear that Chastain has over-performed in JD Motorsports’ cars this season, and that effort has lead to him now having a chance at making the Xfinity Playoffs this season.

The chance at making the playoffs has resulted in the opportunity to race for Chip Ganassi racing in three of the remaining races this season. In addition to Darlington, Chastain will also race in the number 42 at Las Vegas and Richmond this September.

Ross made the most of the first race on that list, Darlington, by earning his first career pole in the series, and won both the first and second stages of the 200 mile event. In doing so, Chastain led a race-high 90 laps. He had led a career total of 16 laps prior to today.

Surprisingly to many, Chastain wasn’t the only contending driver looking for his first win at Darlington. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have never won at the track “Too Tough To Tame”. The three battled vigorously during the final stage. Harvick pulled a slide job on Chastain at one point, but Chastain fought back with a cross over maneuver to reclaim the lead. Keselowski pushed Chastain down the back stretch to get him loose, yet Chastain held tough.

Everything changed on lap 110. While trying to pass the lapped car of Chad Finchum, Harvick took the chance at a threewide pass. He got under Chastain, with Chastain moving down to defend. The two connected and slid up with 42 car making heavy contact with the outside wall. After they gathered themselves up, Chastain then appeared to  hooke Harvick, sending Harvick head on into the back stretch wall. In the process, Brad Keselowski passed both drivers to assume the lead and would go on to score his first career victory at Darlington in NASCAR’s second tier series.

As Harvick made his way to the garage area, he stopped in the 42 team’s pit stall in frustration before retiring for the day. Afterward, he shared his displeasure of the event with the media.

“I tried to stay as low as I could and he just rode on my door,” Harvick said. “That’s just a really inexperienced racer and a really bad move there and got the air and got on beside me and just kept going up the race track. I couldn’t do anything with the wheel. So, you’ve got a really inexperienced guy in a really fast car and made a really bad move, and then wrecked me down the back straightaway and hooked me to the right. That’s probably the reason that he’ll never get to drive many of them again.”

Harvick was relegated to a 29th place finish.

Chastain continued in the race through the restart after repair work on pit road, however, a lap following the restart would come back to the pits due to a severe tire rub and suspension damage. He finished in 25th place.

Chastain said following the race that the contact with Harvick after the initial incident was not intentional.

“I was out of control, man,” Chastain said. “After we hit the wall, I lost the wheel.”

He followed up with his take on the day.

“This was a win for every short-track racer running Fast Trucks, Pro Trucks, Late Models across the country that you can just race as long as you can stay in the car and progress up the ranks,” Chastain said. “However fast or slow it’s going to be or whatever your situation is, it’s just a testament. As long as you just keep racing, however you can, it’ll pay off.”

Car owner Chip Ganassi tweeted this about his driver in response to Harvick’s statements.

“Well everyone, I say @RossChastain simply helped himself to many future opportunities! @nascar @NASCAR_Xfinity @CGRnascar  @DCSolar”

So what about Chastain’s day? Did he blow his opportunity by retaliating against Harvick? Should Harvick have let out of the gas to avoid the contact in the first place?

I think there are a few things to gleam from this day. First, after today it should be pretty clear that Ross Chastain is in fact a talented driver, and when given good equipment, can shine… even at NASCAR’s toughest track.

Second, Chastain didn’t spoil his shot at greatness at all. In fact, it’s my belief that the tangle with Harvick actually helped his case. Why? Let’s say Chastain wins the race. That’s great, and in some ways can be considered even more superb had he beaten two Cup Series champions at the hardest track on the circuit. But let’s also consider what would have happened had Harvick made the pass without incident and gone on to win. Would the media buzz surrounding Chastain been as great? I think not. Having this tussle with Harvick will undoubtedly add more eyeballs in Chastain’s direction. As they say, any publicity is good publicity.

Chastain said he lost the wheel after the initial contact and was out of control, resulting in hitting Harvick and sending into the wall. I call B.S. on that one. I think Chastain was angry and in the heat of the moment, retaliated. I suppose only he knows for sure, however.

Did Harvick have a right to be pissed? Hell yeah he did. Sure, many will say that Harvick could have backed out, let Chastain by and went after him on the next lap or so. But this is racing, and these two drivers were going at it for several laps. It was a hard fought battle. Harvick saw his chance… the lapped car my have provided his only opportunity. I think if the roles had been reversed it would’ve been the same outcome; two contenders fighting for the win. So yeah, Harvick has every right to be mad, and if in fact wrecked on purpose afterward, that much more anger.

Harvick, still very much angered, claims that he doesn’t think Chastain will get to drive many good cars again after what happened in this race. I have to think this was the anger talking, because it’s clear that Ross Chastain will have many more opportunities to perform at a higher level in both the Xfinity Series, and the sport in general.

In this race we saw the emergence of another young, strong, highly talented driver. He proved that if given the right opportunity, he could prosper. Ross Chastain came close, and ruffled some feathers in the process, but he’ll have two more shots this year in that car, and who knows what lies beyond.

In time, Harvick’s anger will subside and hopefully he will realize that he was part of yet another great highlight of this 2018 season. The question is what, if anything, will happen if and when they two cross paths down the road.

In the end, this was a great race, with an unexpected show of talent and a dramatic ending thanks to two drivers RACING HARD FOR THE WIN. Isn’t that what everyone wants? I think so.

What do you think? Should Kevin Harvick have backed out of the pass? Will this incident help or hurt Ross Chastain moving forward. Share your thoughts.

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1 comment:

  1. He had his hands on the steering wheel when he went down to get Harvick. This incident will hurt Chastain but not for too long.


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