By John Haverlin
Ross Chastain wouldn’t say whether he spun Kevin Harvick on purpose after the two made contact while racing for the lead in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Darlington.
But it was pretty clear he did — and it was absolutely warranted.
Normally, Chastain competes with the lesser-funded JD Motorsports, and top-15 finishes are typically a good day for him. But Saturday was the first time he ran with a top-tier, Cup-affiliated organization — Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car — so the expectations were raised.
He lived up to them in the first 75 percent of the race, winning the first two stages after winning the pole. This was turning into a dream day for Chastain and had the potential to be one that launched his career to the next level.
But the incident with Harvick ruined all of that. What could have been the greatest race of Chastain’s life — and the biggest story of the Xfinity Series season — ended up with the Ganassi car finishing 25th.
With Chastain on the outside of Harvick’s No. 98 in Turn 2, Harvick pinched him into the fence. Then, going down the backstretch, Chastain turned left into Harvick’s quarterpanel and Harvick’s car ended up going nose-first into the outside wall.
Obviously, Chastain wants to prove he belongs in top-tier equipment. When Harvick pushed him against the fence, it’s understandable that Chastain would want to retaliate. His reaction was likely just a result of anger and frustration, so it’s hard to blame him.
Harvick was the one who initiated the contact and cost Chastain a chance to win in his first race with Ganassi. Chastain simply returned the favor to Harvick, who’s already a multi-time NASCAR champion with nothing to lose going for the win.
In addition to being a resume builder, a win for Chastain would have meant five playoff points and a guaranteed place in the series’ seven-race championship hunt.
Now Chastain potentially has only two races left to showcase his talent with Ganassi. The next two times he drives the No. 42 are probably the most important of his racing career.
That’s why it makes sense he retaliated immediately instead of waiting for another Xfinity start — or even a Cup race.
If Chastain — who drives for Premium Motorsports in the Cup Series — wanted to make Harvick’s day difficult in the Southern 500, he certainly could.
But Chastain is mature enough to realize team owners want intelligent drivers who can see the bigger picture in their cars. So if he were to give Harvick a hard time on Sunday, it probably won’t do him any good.