DARLINGTON, S.C. – Ross Chastain almost forecast his own fate in Sunday’s late-race showdown with Kyle Larson at Darlington Raceway. The two were at the front of the pack and clanged fenders on a restart that was a quick start and stop because of a multi-car crash with 14 laps left in regulation.
Chastain radioed his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing crew during that caution, asking in particular about Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, saying, “He’s going to have to hit us harder than that.” And later: “Are we even, or does he want to drive me in the fence again?”
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Neither Larson nor Chastain gave an inch near the end of Sunday’s Goodyear 400, and their battle of wills resulted in a restart rhubarb with six laps left in regulation. Chastain was done for the day after the two cars squeezed and scraped along the outside retaining wall, dropping him to a 29th-place finish. Larson continued with a wounded car and finished 20th behind teammate and race-winner William Byron.
“What a hack,” Larson said over the No. 5 radio. He declined further comment in the post-race media rounds, and crew chief Cliff Daniels politely abstained, deferring to team owner Rick Hendrick and vice chairman Jeff Gordon, who were in the media center as representatives for Byron’s winning No. 24 team.
After being evaluated and released from the infield care center, Chastain said he made a decision to go hard into the narrow first turn at the tough 1.366-mile track. Their side-by-side contest ended in a no-decision.
“We all go race, and I fully committed into (turn) one and wanted to squeeze him up,” said Chastain, who led 93 laps. “Didn’t want to turn myself across his nose, for sure. So, not how I wanted to be standing here talking you out here and another incredible day for Trackhouse.”
It was the second issue of the day for Chastain, who bopped the outside wall at the end of Stage 2 and caught up Martin Truex Jr. – dominator for the first half of the race – who spun out of the top five. But more relevant to the No. 5 team, it was the second time in three races that Larson was snared by a Chastain move.
At Dover two weeks ago, Chastain tried to lap the slower car of Brennan Poole at Dover Motor Speedway. But contact with Poole sent his No. 15 Ford sliding directly into the path of Larson, who limped to a 32nd-place result.
“Make that three races he’s taken us out of now, Chevrolet,” Daniels spouted on the No. 5 radio. “Good job.” But Hendrick said that the manufacturer alliance only went so far.
“I don’t care if he’s driving a Chevrolet if he wrecks our cars. I don’t care, and I told Chevrolet that,” Hendrick said. “If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back. If you don’t do it, they’ll run all over you. I’m loyal to Chevrolet, but when somebody runs over us, then I expect my guys to hold their ground. I’m not going to ask them to yield just because of Chevrolet.”