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NASCAR’s very own Ross ‘Crash-tain’ has catapulted into the limelight. But who could have predicted this day would dawn? Garnering headlines for his newfound subdued driving style and on-track antics, his daredevil maneuvers on the track have led him to become a stumbling block for numerous fellow racers. Chastain now must keep a watchful eye on his rearview mirror while gripping tightly to the ever-expanding list of adversaries he’s accrued over time.

From Noah Gragson to Kyle Larson, Brennan Pole to Martin Truex Jr, and Michael McDowell, the roster of contenders whose races he has disrupted seems to have settled. Devoted fans of the Florida native find themselves disheartened by his shifty maneuvers and non-dominant performances. In an attempt to trace the roots of this conundrum, all roads seem to lead to none other than Hendrick Motorsports‘ owner, Rick Hendrick.

Decoding the call: Unpacking the impact of Rick Hendrick’s conversation following the Darlington wreck

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The uproar began in May this year when Chastain and Kyle Larson found themselves entangled on a late restart at Darlington Raceway, resulting in both their cars careening out of the lead. With a mere six laps remaining, the high-stakes battle for the lead in the 400-mile race had the duo driving on the edge, dashing towards the checkered flag. In a dramatic turn, Chastain veered up the racetrack, pushing Larson into the wall, an action that ricocheted and spun Chastain out as well.

Unquestionably, Rick Hendrick wasn’t the least bit pleased with the events at Darlington. Despite his own driver, William Byron, capitalizing on the chaos to seize victory, Hendrick had words of criticism for Chastain. “I think you can ask any driver in here that he’s wrecked or been involved with him, he doesn’t have to be that aggressive,” Hendrick voiced his frustration, emphasizing the fine line between aggression and recklessness.

“He’s going to make a lot of enemies, and it’s hard to win a championship when you got a lot of paybacks out there. He’s got so much talent; I think if he just calmed down that there’s a time in the race.”

However, it seems that Hendrick’s public reprimand wasn’t the extent of the story. Hendrick took it a step further, personally reaching out to Chastain. In a revelation, Chastain shared the details of their conversation:He called me early in the morning… No air went in or out and I just said good morning Mr. Hendrick, and we talked for probably I don’t know seven–eight minutes and it was great.”

Admiring Hendrick’s unique demeanor, Chastain reflected on the interaction, “He has a way about it that’s indescribable… it was hard to breathe honestly.” 

Staying true to his divisive driving style, Ross Chastain reflected on the Darlington race, asserting, “I will take this and get better. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to run into somebody again. Like, I don’t want people to think I’m just going to lay over with six laps to go and a chance to win at Darlington.”

Chastain’s unapologetic attitude towards racing hard and pushing boundaries endeared him to fans as they embraced his determination to win, even if it meant brushing against controversy. This bold approach seemed to elevate Chastain when he triumphed at the Ally 400 in Nashville Superspeedway, securing a coveted playoff spot. However, the trajectory swiftly reversed.

Read more: Kyle Busch Risks Angering Rick Hendrick by Approving Denny Hamlin & NASCAR’s New “Vicious Cycle” of Racing

Following his conversation with Rick Hendrick, there was a stark decline in his performance, with no top-10 finishes in subsequent races. Fans once enamored with his fierce spirit, swiftly expressed their discontent at his struggles on the track.

Fans disgruntled as Ross Chastain’s performance takes a dip amidst Rick Hendrick’s influence

In a recent exchange on X, formerly known as Twitter, fans unleashed their frustration towards Rick Hendrick, expressing their disappointment with his influence over driver Ross Chastain’s performance. One fan’s sentiment echoed,

“Respectfully, scr** Rick Hendrick. He’s not your car owner, his opinion shouldn’t matter to you.” The once-promising Chastain seemed to have faced a downturn after a conversation with Hendrick, with one fan noting, “Mr. H put baby in a corner. The STAIN is irrelevant now.”

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Critics speculated that Hendrick’s interference negatively impacted Chastain’s trajectory. One fan criticized Hendrick’s alleged intention, stating, “Hendrick found the 1 person carrying NASCAR into the public eye with his antics/abilities and thought ‘I can ruin this.'” As another fan lamented, “Yep, Rick Hendrick took a piece of Chastain’s racing heart along with that chat. @RossChastain hasn’t been himself on the track since.”

Some fans even speculated about Hendrick’s motives, suggesting, “I’m sure Hendrick advised Chastain not to win so his cars could win.” Chastain’s lackluster finishes raised concerns, particularly when compared to his Nashville victory, hinting that the conversation might not have been productive: “His finishes, except for the Nashville win, indicate it wasn’t a productive conversation.”

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Spells cast by Rick Hendrick’s influence appear unyielding as the lap times for the qualifying session at Daytona are set and Chastain finds himself positioned 25th on the starting grid. As the playoffs commence in the coming weekend, fans ironically find themselves sending prayers for the return of NASCAR’s enigmatic “villain.”

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