Team owner Rick Hendrick has had enough of Ross Chastain ending Kyle Larson’s victory opportunities either directly or indirectly.
Hendrick watched it happen for the third time in the last month in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway. And as far as Hendrick is concerned, Chastain has crossed the line.
“He doesn’t have to be that aggressive,” Hendrick said after William Byron gave the Hendrick organization a victory in the event. “You just don’t run people up in the fence. He’s going to make a lot of enemies and it’s hard to win a championship when you have a lot of paybacks out there.
“He’s got so much talent. If he would just calm down. He’s got a lot of talent, but he’s making a lot of enemies.”
In addition to Sunday’s incident at Darlington, Larson got caught up in wrecks triggered by Chastain at Dover and Talladega.
“It’s getting old with these guys,” Hendrick said.
Hendrick went through something similar in the late 1980s not long after he became a team owner. This time it was Dale Earnhardt who kept wrecking Hendrick’s No. 5 Chevrolet driven by Geoffrey Bodine. It came to a head in 1987 during May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Earnhardt wrecked Bodine in the All-Star race’s 10-lap dash. It carried over to the next weekend in the Busch Series (now Xfinity) race. Earnhardt was held for several laps on pit road while Bodine went to the garage for repairs. It continued the next day in the Coca-Cola 600 and that’s when NASCAR President Bill France Jr. stepped in and summoned Earnhardt, Bodine, Hendrick, and Earnhardt’s team owner Richard Childress to Daytona for a meeting. It was the meeting that was incorporated into the movie script for “Days of Thunder.” Years later Bodine said Hendrick told him to wreck Earnhardt because he was tired of him crashing his cars.
Hendrick echoed a similar sentiment Sunday, noting that he didn’t care that Chastain was a Chevrolet driver.
“I’ve told Chevrolet (that) if you wreck us, you’re going to get it back,” Hendrick said. “If you don’t do it, they’ll run all over you.
“I’m loyal to Chevrolet, but somebody runs over us, I expect my guys to hold their ground. I’m not going to ask them to yield just because it’s a Chevrolet.”
Hendrick says he hopes Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks will have a conversation with Chastain.
“It’s hard to win a championship when a lot of guys want to pay you back,” Hendrick said. “The drivers have to settle it. This is not just between two guys.”
Hendrick said he didn’t know if Chevrolet could cool the situation because it wasn’t the way they usually operated.
“It’s either NASCAR or the drivers, the owners,” Hendrick continued. “You’ve heard the pit crew say before, we like it. We don’t care if people like us. We’re here to run over and win.
“If it doesn’t change, he’s going to have a hard time winning a championship.”
With 30 laps remaining, Chastain and Larson appeared to be in control of the Darlington race. Throughout the event they had been two of the three strongest cars, leading a total of 122 laps.
For a lap 281 restart, leader Larson elected the inside lane, while Chastain took the outside. When the green flag waved, they charged into turns one and two side-by-side. Larson carried Chastain high, and Chastain’s Chevrolet brushed the wall for several yards. Behind them a multi-car crash occurred at the turn two exit and NASCAR ruled Chastain the leader when the yellow light occurred. Under the yellow, Chastain gave a few hits to the back of Larson’s bumper to let him know he wasn’t happy with him carrying him into the wall.
This time for the restart on lap 288, Chastain elected the inside and Larson the outside. Once again, the two charged into the first and second turns. This time, Chastain’s Chevrolet pushed up, Larson’s car caught Chastain’s right rear, turning him into the wall in front of him.
Chastain was out of the race and relegated to a 29th-place finish. Larson limped to a 20th-place finish.
“I got really tight, drove up and turned myself,” Chastain said. “I wanted to squeeze him (Larson). I wanted to push him up. We had been trading positions back-and-forth all day and I wanted to push him up, for sure, but definitely didn’t want to turn myself into the wall.”
Larson isn’t a confrontational person. He admitted a day before the event that he wasn’t a fighter.
Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon said Larson had to “work within what he’s comfortable with.”
“Some people are really comfortable pushing and shoving and have no issues spinning guys or putting them in the fence,” Gordon said. “Kyle is a guy that you have a lot of respect for because of the way he races, but he knows when to be aggressive, too. I think it depends what’s on the line. Kyle is the kind of guy that if he leans on somebody, he’s going to make sure both of you come out the other end. That’s his kind of responsibility and the way he carries himself.
“I don’t anticipate Kyle changing the way that he races guys, knowing Kyle the way I do.”