Ross Chastain has managed to turn himself into easily the most talked-about man in NASCAR these days.
Chastain ruffled some feathers on the track last year with aggressive moves that resulted in a continuing feud with Denny Hamlin, as well as harsh words from some of his competitors.
Then at Martinsville last year, Chastain turned heads with his incredible video-game style move on the last lap that earned him a spot in the championship four during the season finale the next week.
He ultimately finished second in the final points standings after an incredible season that included two wins during his first year with Trackhouse Racing.
Ross is currently leading the points standings for 2023 despite not having won a race this season (yet), but lately he’s been getting more attention for what he’s been doing wrong than what he’s doing right.
A couple weeks ago at Talladega, an aggressive move by Chastain sent Noah Gragson spinning, settling off a wreck that ended up taking out several drivers, including massive hits for Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece.
Then last week at Dover, Chastain was running 4th when he got into the slower car of Brennan Poole, who had just been put a lap down to the leaders. The bump from Chastain sent the #15 of Poole spinning down the track before sliding back up and directly into the path of an oncoming Larson, who had one of the fastest cars of the race.
Larson had some harsh words for Chastain on the radio after the wreck, calling him a “f*cking idiot” for pulling a move like that and being so aggressive in just the first stage of the race.
“I felt like I just got ran over for no reason 80 laps into the race. Doesn’t make any sense to me but I guess that’s something he’s been known to do here recently. Probably needs to get his butt whooped.”
Even Alex Bowman, who’s out for 3-4 weeks following a fractured vertebra suffered during a sprint car crash last week, weighed in on Chastain’s move on Twitter:
Then things seem to come to a head this past weekend at Kansas when Chastain once again found himself in the middle of the controversy.
Early in the race, Chastain and Kyle Busch tangled on the track and Busch expressed his displeasure with Chastain:
Then later on, Chastain and Gragson got together yet again when Chastain ran Gragson high coming out of turn four and ended up putting Gragson into the fence, effectively ending his day early after Gragson would cut down a tire just a few laps later.
Then after the race, tempers flared between Chastain and Gragson on pit road. The two were having a heated conversation when Gragson grabbed Chastain by the firesuit and began pushing him – which apparently didn’t sit well with Chastain, who threw a haymaker that landed right on Gragson’s jaw.
Chastain gave a memorable interview after the scuffle, saying that Trackhouse Racing had a “no push policy.”
And Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks that Ross needs to capitalize on having all this attention and use it to market himself – just like Dale’s dad, Dale Earnhardt, did during his career.
Discussing Chastain on his Dale Jr. Download podcast, Dale pointed out that Chastain does a lot of things on the track that are similar to things his dad did back in his day:
“Dad was out there doing real similar things on the racetrack. He flat out dumped people, and would get out – he wouldn’t really apologize for it as much as Ross does but he would get out and say, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. That wasn’t dirty driving. I got into him. My mistake.'”
And Dale Jr. thinks that Chastain needs to use the attention that he’s getting right now to brand himself – and market himself to those outside of NASCAR – the way that the Intimidator did earlier in his career:
“People around Dale Earnhardt around ’86, ’87, up into the ’90s, those people around him, they capitalized on his on-track actions. They created a persona, through marketing, through souvenirs, that went nationwide, if not global.
The Intimidator, the Man in Black, you know where you saw those for the first time? On a hat. On a t-shirt. Dale Earnhardt didn’t walk into the racetrack and say ‘Hey, from here on out, I’m the Man in Black.’ ‘From here on out, I’m the Intimidator.’
That was a marketing campaign. That was a t-shirt, that was a hat, that took off. It became a persona.”
Now obviously Junior isn’t saying that Ross Chastain is the next Dale Earnhardt. Obviously Chastain hasn’t even won a championship yet, and hasn’t had near the success at this point in his career that Earnhardt managed during his Hall of Fame career.
But Dale Jr. thinks that Chastain presents an opportunity for NASCAR to reach new fans who don’t follow the sport, exactly the way his dad transcended NASCAR:
“This is NASCAR’s opportunity to turn Ross Chastain from a superstar in the NASCAR bubble to a national star in the mainstream.”
And Dale’s got a solid point. Chastain is by far the most talked-about driver in the sport, especially among people who don’t normally follow NASCAR.
This past weekend, Chastain and Gragson accounted for more social media engagements than the next 23 drivers COMBINED, including race winner Denny Hamlin.
Seems that now Chastain has an opportunity many NASCAR drivers, especially in recent years, will never have: To become a household name outside the sport of NASCAR.
He’s definitely got the buzz. Let’s see if he’s got the marketing brains behind him to pull it off.
NASCAR Spotter: Is Chastain “The New Dale Earnhardt?”
Is there a new Intimidator in NASCAR?
Obviously nobody will ever be able to replace the late, great Dale Earnhardt. He earned his nickname the Intimidator from his take-no-prisoners racing style and aggressiveness on the track. When his black #3 pulled up behind you, you knew he was going to do whatever it took to get by you. And if you caught up to Earnhardt, good luck getting around him without a hell of a fight.
Remind you of any current-day NASCAR drivers?
Well NASCAR spotter and co-host of the popular Door Bumper Clear podcast Brett Griffin is wondering whether Ross Chastain is the modern-day Intimidator on the track.
On a recent episode while discussing Chastain’s recently on-track run-ins, Griffin posed the question:
“Is this guy the new Dale Earnhardt? In terms of how he races? Are people intimidated by Ross Chastain?
Is that a fair question? Why aren’t they doing anything back to him.”
As Griffin pointed out, people are saying that Chastain needs to get his butt whooped for his actions on the track, but nobody’s actually done it:
“If you’re gonna go whoop somebody’s ass, go do it…
Ross doesn’t believe that anybody’s gonna do anything to him. And until they do, he’s not going to stop…
I think they’re afraid of Ross. I think they’re afraid that if they get him back he’s just going to get him again…I mean why hasn’t somebody paid him back?”
Of course Noah Gragson did try to pay Chastain back after the race this weekend at Kansas, but Chastain once again ended up getting the better of his competition, landing a punch squarely on Gragson’s jaw before the fight was quickly broken up.
When Griffin’s co-host Casey Boat pointed out that she doesn’t think Chastain is intentionally wrecking anybody, but is just being aggressive on the track and doesn’t care what he has to do to get to the front, Griffin pointed out that it was that same mentality that was possessed by Earnhardt on the track:
“So did Dale Earnhardt. He meant to rattle his cage.”
Now even Griffin admits that Ross Chastain is Dale Earnhardt…but is he the closest thing we’ve got on the track these days?
I have a feeling there are a lot who disagree and will be up in arms at any comparison between Chastain and Earnhardt, but you’ve gotta admit, Chastain has that same don’t-give-a-f*ck driving style that made Earnhardt so popular – or unpopular, depending on when you’re talking about.
I guess we’ll see if anybody pays Chastain back on the track, or whether he really is the new Intimidator.