Questions linger among drivers in aftermath of Kansas fight

Questions linger among drivers in aftermath of Kansas fight

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Ross Chastain’s aggressive nature put him at the center of a physical conflict last Sunday at Kansas Speedway. He said Saturday that any rough patches with fellow combatant Noah Gragson have been smoothed out, and the two spent time together racing micro-sprint cars on dirt the next day.

Chastain’s actions both during and after the race, however, remained a talking point with the NASCAR Cup Series field’s Saturday arrival at Darlington Raceway. Questions still linger about how best to deal with both physical altercations and Chastain himself.

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“I’ve had issues with a lot of guys and Chastain has been the most frustrating one because he has it every single week,” said Kyle Busch. “So when it happens with you, because it’s every single week and it’s so repetitive with one guy, then you get even more frustrated because it‘s like the guy hasn‘t even learned a single lesson or any bullet point of what the problem is. There’s a common denominator. And he’s got an aggressive style. We all want to say that he is and whatever … well, we’re all aggressive to a point because we‘re all going to push hard and try to make runs; get spots, get good finishes, things of that nature.”

Chastain enters as the Cup Series points leader ahead of Sunday’s Goodyear 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the historic 1.366-mile track. His Trackhouse Racing No. 1 Chevrolet is a popular participant in the NASCAR Throwback Weekend theme with a nod to NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett from his UPS-sponsored days.

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Jarrett appeared alongside Chastain during a Saturday morning media availability at Darlington, noting how much more intense that racing in the Cup Series has become since his driving career ended in 2008. But he endorsed Chastain’s individuality behind the wheel, even if it’s ruffled feathers.

“Ross’s style is his style, and it’s very good, and as I told him on the phone the other day, I hope he doesn’t change that because of pressures that come from outside,” Jarrett said. “He has to do what got him here and got him opportunities, and I hope he continues that because it’s a style that has suited others well through the years. It’s not for everybody, and we don’t want — and I talked ‘we,’ the media and fans — we don’t want everybody to be the same. And so, I think this is his style and the way he’s going about it, getting blamed for everything that goes on on the damn race track is getting a little old, in my opinion. I mean, hell guys on the opposite side of the track are saying it was Ross’ fault, so getting a little ridiculous.”

As for the fisticuffs, opinions were divided on how to settle post-race scores when tensions escalate. “This is big-time auto racing. This is not hockey,” was Chastain’s thought, but others seemed willing to let fighting go further before officials or security intervened, mentioning some NHL-style rules in the process.

“It’s tough because nobody wants to be in that position, because nothing positive comes from that other than publicity for commercials in NASCAR,” said Daniel Suárez, Chastain’s Trackhouse teammate. “But sponsors, sometimes they don’t like that kind of stuff, so that’s a tricky part. Also, once you’re already in that situation, sometimes you are in the heat of the moment that you don’t think about everything else, all the consequences. … I wish (security) let them go for a little bit, at least 10 seconds. I mean, why not? I think they should let them go for a little bit, maybe not as much as hockey, but a little bit because they have to get their emotions out.”

Said Michael McDowell, who had his own confrontation with Suárez four years ago at Phoenix Raceway: “I don’t know how I feel about it, but you know, I definitely don’t like the fact that Ross got a shot (in) and Noah didn’t. That’s no fun. So yeah, they gotta keep them all the way separated and not let it happen at all or give it 30 seconds to play out.”

Add Busch to the list of those suggesting a time limit.

“I feel like security stepped in about 10 seconds too quick,” Busch said. “You let one guy get a hell of a hit and then you block the other guy from getting a hit back. At least let the guy try and then maybe get one in. I would seriously urge NASCAR to go with some hockey rules, you know? Once you get to the ground, we‘re going to break it up; or when one of you guys look gassed, we‘re going to break it up. Let them get a good 30 seconds in.”

Establishing clear-cut rules for each physical situation is a difficult proposition. Chastain’s pre-emptive punch came quickly, and security officials stepped in promptly. When two warring drivers have a size mismatch, letting a fracas go could be more dangerous.

“I mean, pound for pound, even I would probably lose the fight,” said Kyle Larson. “So no, I would say, I think I want security to break them up before they ever get to my car. Just kidding, but I don’t know. I don’t foresee myself ever being in a situation like that. I think everybody probably understands it’s not going to be an equal fight with me, so they’ll end up looking bad because I’m a little fella.”

Veteran Kevin Harvick has been in his share of conflicts through the years, saying he’d been on both sides of the altercations “and probably done it right and wrong.” But he also mentioned that in the instance of a so-called fair fight, the threat of serious injury is possible if left unchecked.

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“As I get older, I think they need to just not let it happen,” Harvick said. “If they want to fight, they can go fight somewhere else. So you know, I know, like with the stuff that we do, obviously Ross was just defending himself and his territory, so it’s … I find myself torn on it. I think in today’s day and age, it almost seems a little bit cheap.”

Implementing the hockey-style rules, as other drivers are suggesting? Harvick turned that notion inside out.

“You ever see any of them fight?” Harvick said. “I haven’t. I think they’re all full of talk, personally. There’s only a couple of them that aren’t, so until they stand there and brawl, let’s see if that’s actually what they want. Because I’d say most of them don’t want that.”