The Cup Series took on World Wide Technology Raceway for the first time on June 5. There were several storylines to track, and one of the biggest was the spiciness between Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain.
The conflict started early in the race. The two drivers raced each other hard during Stage 1, but it escalated in Stage 2. Chastain sent Hamlin into the wall, which broke the toe link on the No. 11 and forced the car onto pit road for repairs. Hamlin fell three laps down before getting back onto the track and meeting minimum speed.
There were several debates following the contact about whether Chastain had done so intentionally. Analyst Larry McReynolds said that he had studied the data and determined that Chastain had hit the brakes before punting Hamlin into the wall. Though the No. 11 team certainly felt differently, which led to further incidents.
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Hamlin Expressed His Displeasure Multiple Times
Following the repairs, Hamlin did not have the pace to get back on the lead lap and attempt to make a comeback. His Toyota Camry was simply too slow, and he has lost too many laps. However, he continued to complete laps while letting Chastain know that he was unhappy.
The first interaction took place as Chastain attempted to pass Hamlin on the inside. The driver of the No. 11 ran his peer down onto the apron and almost into the grass. Chastain was able to dart back onto the track before collecting any debris, but he said over the radio that he would “handle it” after the race.
This maneuver was not the end of the conflict. It resurfaced the next time that Chastain went to lap Hamlin. He dove to the inside once again, but Hamlin ran him down onto the curbing. Chastain attempted to move to the outside, but Hamlin also swerved to continue slowing him down. He held the No. 1 back for a short period of time, but Chastain was ultimately able to make the pass.
Chase Elliott Got Involved in the Scuffle
As the old proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Two drivers proved this to be true later in Stage 2 after Chastain made contact with Chase Elliott on a restart and sent him spinning.
Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson made strong comments over the radio after the contact from Chastain, and they made it clear that they would not pass up an opportunity to get some payback on the driver of the No. 1. They did not have to wait long.
Following the caution laps, the drivers lined up for the restart on Lap 107. Hamlin was ahead of Chastain while Elliott was right behind him, which set up a surprising tag team partnership between drivers on rival teams.
Elliott started first. He drove up and hit the rear of the No. 1, sending it up the track and almost into the wall. Hamlin then moved up the track and made contact with the No. 1 before pulling in front of it.
Elliott continued moving forward, but Hamlin just kept riding in front of Chastain while trying to keep him from meeting minimum speed. The tower ultimately intervened and made it clear that Hamlin needed to cut it out, or else he would face some consequences.
“That’s why you don’t poke the bear,” Clint Bowyer said. “Right there. And I hate to say it, but that’s what happens. There’s consequences for every action, and unfortunately, Ross Chastain is experiencing those consequences.”
Chastain, to his credit, acknowledged the incidents during his post-race media availability. He told MRN that he had made some mistakes on the track while battling Hamlin, Elliott, and other drivers. Chastain also told FOX Sports’ Jamie Little that he owed “half the field” an apology.
“I was way off on my driving today,” Chastain told MRN. “Driving into that many people is unacceptable at this level. I absolutely drove over my head today and that was unacceptable.”
“It’s good that he takes responsibility, but ultimately it ruined our day,” Hamlin told Little after the race. He continued and said that all the drivers have had to learn “the hard way” and that it will come back around on Chastain.