Only six races have elapsed thus far in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, and yet, it’s already been a banner year for simmering driver feuds. Driver disrespect is the prevailing topic of conversation — just ask Kyle Busch.
And while NASCAR just recently stepped in and flexed its muscles by slamming Denny Hamlin with a stiff fine of $50,000 and 25 driver points for publicly admitting he intentionally fenced Ross Chastain in Phoenix, the latest altercation of Daniel Suarez running down Alex Bowman on pit road during the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in Austin, Texas proves that this unsettling trend is still one of this season's major talking points.
What did Daniel Suarez do in his incident with Alex Bowman?
In contention for a win as the race went into three two-lap overtimes, Suarez was hit by Bowman as he approached Turn 1 during the first overtime restart. But it was actually Chastain — Suarez’s teammate at Trackhouse Racing — who initially triggered the melee when he got tangled up with Bowman. The subsequent ripple effect led to Suarez ricocheting into Martin Truex Jr., causing both cars to lose valuable positions.
Then, as the final overtime came to a close, Suarez shoved the Watermelon Man out of the way on the cool-down lap before he tracked Bowman down on pit road after the race, slamming the rear of Bowman’s No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro repeatedly. Once he exited his vehicle, a heated Suarez exchanged words with both Bowman and his teammate Chastain.
What did Alex Bowman think of the incident with Daniel Suarez?
“He just thought I drove in and tried to drive through him,” Bowman said about his discussion with Suarez, according to Motorsport.com. “I had the corner made. Only reason I was inside of [Suarez] was to protect from [Chastain]. Then [Chastain] just hammered me in the corner, dumped me, then I ran into [Suarez], kind of cleaned him out.”
“Daniel and I, we’ve been teammates in the past, raced together a long time,” Bowman continued. “I respect the hell out of him. I’m sure he’s still not super happy. Just tried to explain that I wouldn’t race him like that, that I was shoved in there.”
“The problem is if you don’t peek out and [dive] bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” offered Bowman, who still managed to finish third overall in the event.
What did Ross Chastain think of the incident with Daniel Suarez?
“He [Suárez] is mad at me for being two rows back,” Chastain later told reporters. “He’s always mad at me. ... I shouldn’t say that. He’s not always mad at me. He’s mad at me for a restart.”
“I’m getting run into, and then I’m running into people,” the fourth-place finisher Chastain added. “I got spun a couple restarts before, and he got it later. I didn’t get mad when I got spun. I just tried to get my car to start. It was in, like, low-load protection mode, and once I got the ECU cycled, I got going, and I never thought about it again.”
“I don’t understand how we can be so upset about crazy restarts that we’re doing,” Chastain questioned. “These cars are so tough, [that] we can run into each other. I mean, there’s just lines of cars all pushing each other on the brakes, and nobody’s going in there saying, ‘I’m gonna hit somebody,’ but it’s just, the leader has to check up, and it just magnifies itself.”
“So, I tried being up top and going around the outside and got spun,” noted Chastain. “I went on the bottom and got slammed into.”
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What is NASCAR doing about Daniel Suarez’s incident with Alex Bowman and Ross Chastain?
For anyone who watched the race, the final late-day shenanigans should come as no surprise as the aggression seemed to be building, a trend that league officials and NASCAR’s sanctioning board have been trying to tamp down as of late. While Suarez didn’t appear to be trying to manipulate the outcome of a race, there’s a fine between trading paint and blatant retaliatory actions.
NASCAR officials are looking into the situation to determine if any disciplinary measures are warranted, a league spokesperson said Monday, according to Motorsport.com. Should NASCAR move forward with penalties for Suarez, the league could point to Section D of Section 4.4 of the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct, which it cited as one rule Denny Hamlin broke when he intentionally fenced Chastain in Phoenix. Under this point, the league can severely penalize drivers for “actions by a NASCAR Member that NASCAR finds to be detrimental to stock car racing or NASCAR.” The penalty range includes a fine between $50,000 and $100,000 and/or 25 to 50 driver and/or team owner points.
While it only made matters worse that Chastain — Suarez’s teammate at Trackhouse Racing — got out of his car and said, “Don’t be all high and mighty” to Suarez, fortunately, nothing escalated as the drivers came face to face. Still, at the end of the day, Suarez’s disappointing 27th-place finish could be heavily exacerbated by a stiff penalty from the league. The potential for sanctions is already on the mind of Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks, who lamented after the race on Twitter, saying, “This whole NASCAR thing is a strain on my adult heart.” Mom and dad don’t like to see the kids fight either.
The one person who doesn’t seem fazed by the matter is the ever embroiled-in-controversy Chastain, who made light of the situation to reporters following the drivers’ exchange of words on pit road.
“‘Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?’” hailed Chastain as he channeled his best Russel Crowe-in-"Gladiator" impression. “I mean, come on. This is what we love. I don’t love it doing it, but this is, as a sport, we’re not boring.”