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Denny Hamlin: Ross Chastain’s Wreck-Triggering Move Cost Him a Daytona Championship

Published 02/21/2024, 7:23 AM EST

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Daytona 500 aka the “Great American Race” went down as a blockbuster event. Despite the weather playing spoilsport extending the race, the 200-lap feature definitely was a thriller, especially with the final lap wreck fest that went down upping the ante. The Ford supremacy quickly changed once the race ended with two Hendrick Motorsports cars crossing the finish line first and second, gifting Mr. H the perfect 40th-anniversary gift, ending the 9-year drought.

But, many from the community had other opinions about the race. Some dismissed the high-speed action as a script while others just did not like the finish. Now coming to the matter, following the race, Joe Gibbs Racing veteran, Denny Hamlin offered another perspective on the race, one that had Ross Chastain in the pivotal role.

The 3-time Daytona winner opined that the results would be drastically different if Chastain actually “pushed the #24” instead of “trying to dive” Byron on the final leg of the race.

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Denny Hamlin acquits Ross Chastain of diving the #24 but offers a different approach

It was a perfect day for HMS, getting both their cars, #24 and #48, across the finish line in stellar fashion at the top while William Byron won his first Daytona 500. However, the biggest highlight of that race was the 23-car pileup at the end that got the crowd on their toes. When the race resumed after a brief red flag period, it was Ross Chastain and William Byron who raced it out for the lead.

However, with Byron’s teammate Alex Bowman pushing the #1 Trackhouse Racing driver and the racecars of Corey LaJoie and Austin Cindric veering to the inside lane, Chastain made a slightly miscalculated move on the last lap according to Hamlin which eventually got him a 21st place finish instead of a trophy. Speaking on his popular Actions Detrimental podcast, Hamlin said, “For Chastain coming to the white there, when he had that big push, he’s thinking this is the only avenue, this is the only avenue. I’ve got to win this race.” 

Even though Hamlin actually thinks that Chastain did nothing wrong pushing the #24 of Byron, deeming it was just instinctive, the veteran dissected the whole thing, He said, “I think if you slow things down a little bit and really think through it, you’ve still got two and a half miles to go and so much can happen. And he likely would’ve been if he pushed, you know, instead of trying to dive on the #24. If you push the #24, he likely would get the#24 clear. Then it’s a matter of does he get the push again later in the lap. But he had such a speed difference between him and the #24. He saw a gap and he saw a gap because the seven cars of Corey Lajoie and the two were, as they say, Jimmy jacking around on the bottom lane. They got each other kind of bottled up and more than likely what Ross saw was like, oh, the bottom lane’s open now I’m just gonna shoot here.” 

With such a heartbreaking finish after almost leading the race at one point, one would think Ross Chastain to be regretting his actions. However, that was far from the truth as Ross Chastain cut a confident figure in a post-race conversation.

WATCH THIS STORY: Kyle Petty’s take on Denny Hamlin’s infamous tagline 

“I don’t apologize for that” – Ross Chastain remains unfazed after the disastrous Daytona finish

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The race, which was postponed by a day due to bad weather, saw a massive crash towards the end that quite literally changed the course of everything. Sensing a great opportunity and seeing the gap, Chastain dived right in with his #1 Chevy to close the gap on the Byron despite the high-speed close-quarter action turning more and more vicious.

Unfortunately, contact with Austin Cindric and Corey LaJoie‘s #7 Chevy sent Chastain’s hopes spinning into the infield, extinguishing his chances of victory as the caution flag unfurled and William Byron was crowned the race winner. Despite the disappointing end, Chastain in his post-race interview with motorsports journalist Matt Weaver, remained unapologetic.

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The driver said, “I took the gap, and I don’t apologize for that. I can go to sleep tonight knowing that I took the white flag, making the move to win the Daytona 500. Four years ago, it was with eight laps to go or something. I’ve got it down to one lap to go. Yeah, too aggressive though, when you don’t finish.” 

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Ecstatic William Byron Claims He “Blacked Out” for the Last Few Laps at Daytona

Above all, Chastain remains undeterred even after getting his Daytona dreams squashed and aims to show his best in the upcoming race in Atlanta.

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Written by:

Kishore R

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Kishore is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. He actively covers live events and does detailed race analyses, helping fans understand the very nitty gritties of the sport. Using the right mix of storytelling and game expertise, Kishore can take his readers on a journey to see how a particular race was for some of their most loved drivers, like Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath