NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Cup points leader Ross Chastain knows that while he needs to adjust how he drives, he can’t back down.
“If I drive my car at 90%, I’m going to go 10% slower,” Chastain said after finishing 19th in Wednesday night’s Cars Tour Late Model race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. “I have to find the limit of the tire, and I just need to hit less things. It’s as simple as that.”
A lightning rod in Cup, Chastain has been the center of controversy each of the past four weeks. It reached a crescendo last weekend at Darlington Raceway when Chastain and Kyle Larson crashed racing for the lead with six laps to go.
Larson’s car owner, Rick Hendrick, was critical of Chastain. The Darlington incident marked the third time in the last four races that Chastain’s actions led to Larson wrecking.
“He’s going to make a lot of enemies,” Hendrick said last weekend. “It’s hard to win a championship when you’ve got a lot of paybacks out there.”
Chastain spoke with Hendrick this week. While Chastain didn’t go into details about the conversation, he said it went well.
“We talked about things other than just Darlington,” Chastain said. “He had some really good life advice.”
As for his conversion with Trackhouse Racing team owner Justin Marks this week, Chastain said the message was clear.
“Stop hitting things,” Chastain said. “I know that. … I get it. I hear him. I hear everybody. I take it all in, and I form my own opinion.
“I’m not going to let a quarter mile of asphalt with six laps to go at Darlington in a Cup race change who I am or what I believe about myself, and we’ll continue to go on.”
Chastain understands the frustration he’s caused with his actions this season and last.
“When I drove into Turn 1 in Darlington last week, it did not play out how I thought and how I prepared it to play out,” Chastain said. “So, together with everything else that’s happened, I deserve every bit of heat, every bit of bad word that has come my way and every bit of ill will that people are thinking of me.
“I get it. I’ll take it. But the fact of the matter is I’m going to drive my race car to the best of my ability. If I mess up, I will own that. But I do feel like that some other guys could own some of their stuff, too.”
As for his incident with Larson last weekend at Darlington, Chastain said: “I made a decision to push really hard for that win, and I overstepped the line.
“I’m sad that I wrecked Kyle. I am sorry that it happened, but I’m not going to change my preparation. Kyle and I train together. We prepare together, so we both knew everything about each other. I played a little game with him on our final restart. It didn’t end up working, but it was cool to talk about it with him Monday morning.”
The Darlington finish extended Chastain’s winless streak to 39 races. His last Cup victory came at Talladega in April 2022.
“I still say the fact that I’m here doesn’t seem real, but we are here, and I know that we belong here and Trackhouse belongs here,” Chastain said. “We’ve arrived on the map, and now we’re going to stay there.
“I’ve just got some things to clean up. I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes. Just mine have been really badly timed and in front of literally everybody that’s ever heard of NASCAR.”