Aggressive driving a growing issue in NASCAR

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Thanks largely to Ross Chastain, aggressive driving is now more than a passing – pun intended – interest in NASCAR circles.

Chastain occasionally raced with wild abandon last week at Gateway, angering Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, earning their on-track retaliation and later apologizing for driving over his head, as he put it. In March, Chastain muscled his way to his first Cup victory with some aggressive late-race driving at COTA.

Where’s the line between aggressive driving and driving that’s too aggressive? The approach to drawing that border likely is different for every driver, but it’s a topic that’s likely to continue to be out front as all three NASCAR national series approach the start of the playoffs.

“I like leaving it in the drivers’ hands,” said Matt DiBenedetto, who has raced in all three series and currently is a full-time Camping World Truck Series driver. “The more that we can leave it self-governing, it seems to work itself out. We have to race each other every week. If there are problems and conflicts, it’s best left to the drivers whether they need to talk to each other after the race or smack you upside the head or whatever it is.”

DiBenedetto said the on-track exchanges last week between Chastain, Elliott and Hamlin are examples of how the system works.

“We saw them (NASCAR) really letting the drivers handle it,” he said. “That’s perfect. It works out. NASCAR should step in when they need to but mostly allow it to work itself out.”

NASCAR has said it might discuss the Gateway incidents with the drivers this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

Action in the Truck series often tests the limits of aggressive driving as up-and-coming drivers seek to establish themselves as potential winners. Hailie Deegan said driving in the series sometimes stretches beyond acceptable.

“There’s just a lot of chaos in the Truck series, and I think it’s almost a discipline issue,” she said. “It’s like if you’re building a building and it has no structure — it’s going to fall apart. If you’re raising a kid with no discipline, they’re not going to behave the best way possible, and I feel like in the Truck series, kind of what’s lacking right now is that discipline.

“You’ve got a lot of young kids in there trying to prove themselves, and then you have some of the older talent that has a lot of experience and it’s not meshing well. I feel like there needs to be some structure to it in order to get it under control. … If I’m going to go hit somebody or wreck somebody, — if there is a black flag or some sort of discipline, some type of repercussion that I could face because of it — I’m probably going to decide whether or not to do that and not just instantly do it because you know there’s nothing bad that’s going to come of it after.”