Denny Hamlin: “Reach My Peak” with Ross Chastain
Ross Chastain during the Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (HHP/Harold Hinson)
After their second break-in in the last five NASCAR Cup races, Denny Hamlin has “reached my peak” with Ross Chastain.
The final episode of the soap opera between Chastain and Hamlin came with 14 laps to go in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Chastain raced behind Hamlin in turns 3 and 4 of the 1.54 mile track as they raced around the top five.
Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet, which had a bear tie on both sides of its hood for repairs to an earlier wreck, drifted down the track and tagged Hamlin. This sent the #11 Toyota of driver Joe Gibbs Racing into a spin as Chastain managed to avoid any greater damage to his own car.
More: Chase Elliott wins in Atlanta
Hamlin was able to continue, but on the ensuing restart he was caught in a wreck with Christopher Bell and Joey Logano at the back of the pack. He finished 25th.
Meanwhile, Chastain finished second to Chase Elliott for his 10th top 10 of the season.
“It’s just frustrating. We were in a pretty good position, but eventually we got knocked out,” Hamlin said. “We were in a really good position and we were close to being cleared off (Chastain) and being third on the outside line. I was really happy with where I was, that’s for sure. I think (Chastain) probably sensed that we were about to take him out, so he chased us up there and penetrated us.
Sunday’s incident followed what happened between the two drivers in the June 5 race at Gateway, when Chastain went deep into Turn 1, made contact with Hamlin and sent him into the wall outside.
Hamlin spent the rest of the race trying to get his point across by making Chastain’s day miserable. He tried to force Chastain off the track on the straight immediately after the incident. Later, he intentionally slowed down in front of Chastain to impede his progress on several occasions.
After the incident in Atlanta, someone on Team 11 radio remarked, “Lesson not learned.
Chastain told reporters the contact was the result of damage to his car. This was inflicted when Chastain may or may not have turned Martin Truex Jr. on lap 91, triggering an accident involving several cars.
“I took damage and overestimated how fast I could go around the corner with the draft and fell on him,” Chestnut said. “This one is so different (from Gateway), because I got so much damage. You know I’d take full responsibility if I ran into it. I had so much damage, I was so much tighter. … I just couldn’t carry the accelerator like I could earlier. I still lifted a few, but it wasn’t enough.
On pit road after the race, Hamlin was asked how a line had been crossed too many times.
“It all depends on the level I’m ready to take. It’s just another unfortunate circumstance for him,” Hamlin said. “Everyone has different tolerance levels and as you all know I’ve peaked.”
There are seven races left before the start of the post-season, for which both drivers have qualified.
After Gateway, Hamlin said Chastain will suffer the consequences when “it matters most”.
Leaving Atlanta, where does it go from here?
“It all works out in the end,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “I said my piece the first time and nothing really changed this time. … We’re definitely not reducing breaks going forward. … Eventually you have to pay for those decisions that you make and … everything that happens in the future happens.