By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season have proven to be a year Ross Chastain has had superb outings or making enemies on the track. Notably, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin. Now the latest victim in the eyes of the Cup competitors was Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch.
During Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Chastain had won the opening stage but would have an up and down afternoon from there. Rather than being an early contender being the headline, it was the battle between Busch that changed everything in the final stage.
As expected on restarts, it was an all out battle across the leaderboard. Busch restarted on the outside of Row 5 with Chastain behind him.
Then Chastain poked his nose in the middle of Busch and Ty Dillon entering the backstretch. Once Chastain had an advantage over Dillon, he entered Turn 3 battling with Busch being next line when things went south.
Chastain clipped Busch, forcing Martin Truex, Jr. to ease off in order to avoid running into his teammate. An accordion effect ensued with Erik Jones’ plowing into the left rear quarter panel of Chastain, sending him around and collected Truex.
The rest of the field avoided the mayhem and all parties got their cars back going. Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart was quoted over the radio saying this about Chastain:
In terms of damage for Busch, his back end made contact towards the outside pit wall, but kept fighting. Jones on the other hand, the contact with Chastain ended his afternoon, finishing 35th and was the only driver out due to an accident.
“We were just in the wrong spot and got caught in someone else’s mess. We made contact and killed the right front,” Jones on the accident. “We struggled all day with our FOCUSfactor Chevy, just couldn’t find the balance we needed to run up front. Not our day. We’ll load up and get ready for Watkins Glen next weekend.”
Chastain’s afternoon never fully recovered and ended up 18th to end a disappointing race for Trackhouse Racing. Busch on the other hand, recovered fairly to bring the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry home in ninth.
The battle with Chastain remained fresh in Busch’s memory, saying he’s simply the latest victim of what’s been described as a “Chastain Moment.”
“We were looking okay, and in a good spot just coming up through there working our way methodically through the field with our M&M’s Toyota Camry, and we got ‘Chastained’ this week. We were his victim this week,” said Busch.
A big part of the recovery process was another caution involving a JGR teammate when Christopher Bell spun at the bottom of Turn 3 on Lap 251. It allowed competitors to play around with pit strategy, but affected Busch’s afternoon as much as the contact from Chastain.
All due to playing a game called pit strategy which helped Bell get second at day’s end while Busch got the shortest straw.
Rather than car that had promise of finishing in the top-five, Busch mustard a top-10 instead which he admitted was all the Camry had to deliver.
“Then that didn’t hurt us too bad. We restarted back in a decent spot. But then the next spin I think, was Christopher. That allowed the guys that were around us that we were kind of racing some of our team guys to come get tires and then they had 10 fresher laps on tires the whole rest of the day,” Busch explained.
“So that kind of hurt us if we would have been on that strategy we would have run out of tires, but we also probably would have been in the top five. So just wrong side of the strategy there. At the end, nothing, nothing to do really to flip that but good fight all day long.
“You know, the top 10 is about what we had anyway, I figured the best we were it was about a seventh you know, but barring a strategy call, we could have probably been top-five. So that’s all we had anyway.”
With two regular season races remaining, Busch is one of 10 drivers who are locked into the playoffs.
Heading into Watkins Glen for the annual Go Bowling at the Glen, Busch is currently 10th via playoff points with six. Coverage begins Sunday, August 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET on USA Network.