Rick Hendrick on Ross Chastain’s actions: ‘If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back’ – NASCAR on NBC Sports

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Car owner Rick Hendrick issued a warning to Ross Chastain after Kyle Larson was wrecked for the third time in the last four races due to Chastain’s actions.
“I don’t care if he’s driving a Chevrolet if he wrecks our cars,”  Hendrick said of Chastain, who drives a Chevy for Trackhouse Racing. “I don’t care. I’ve told Chevrolet that. If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back. If you don’t do it, they’ll run all over you.
“I’m loyal to Chevrolet, but when somebody runs over us, then I expect my guys to hold their ground. I’m not going to ask them to yield just because of Chevrolet.”
Hendrick wasn’t done.
“He doesn’t have to be that aggressive,” Hendrick said of Chastain. “I guess at this point in the race maybe you’re super aggressive, but you just don’t run people up in the fence. He’s going to make a lot of enemies. It’s hard to win a championship when you’ve got a lot of paybacks out there.”
Asked if he needed to get involved, Hendrick mentioned Chastain’s team owner, Justin Marks.
“I would think Justin would have a conversation” with Chastain.
As for the message Marks should deliver?
“If you have a lot of people wanting to pay you back, then it’s hard to win a championship that way,” Hendrick said.
As for all the incidents with Chastain, Hendrick said: “It’s really getting old with these guys.”
Hendrick’s words filled a void left by Larson, who left the track without talking to reporters.
Hendrick’s comments came after one of his drivers — William Byron— won his series-high third Cup victory Sunday at Darlington Raceway.
But it could have been Larson had it not been for Chastain.
Chastain and Larson were battling for the lead on a restart with six laps to go when trouble struck.
Chastain made contact with Larson and they hit again. Chastain’s right rear hit Larson’s left front. The contact spun Chastain’s car sideways and damaged the left front of Larson’s car, ending his chances of a victory. Larson finished 20th.
“I fully committed into (Turn) 1 and wanted to squeeze (Larson) up,” Chastain said after exiting the infield care center. “Didn’t want to turn myself across his nose for sure. Not how I wanted to be standing here talking to you all here.”
On the previous restart, the roles had been reversed. Larson was on the bottom lane and Chastain on the top lane. Chastain hit the wall.
When asked by his team if he got into the wall, Chastain responded on the radio: “Oh yeah. He drove us right in it.”
As Chastain determined which lane to pick for the next restart, he asked his team if they thought Larson was done or if Larson would do the same thing.
The team responded by telling Chastain to choose which lane he felt stronger. It was the bottom, setting up his fateful contact with Larson.
Issues between Chastain and Larson started at Talladega. Chastain’s contact with Noah Gragson at the front of the field created an accordion affect that collected Larson and ended his race. Larson finished 33rd.
At Dover the following week, Chastain got into the back of Brennan Poole, sending Poole’s car up the track into Larson, ending his chances to win. Larson finished 32nd.
After Sunday’s incident, crew chief Cliff Daniels told Larson on the radio: “Why did he just run right into the fence? How does that make any sense? … Make that three races now that he’s taken us out, Chevrolet. Good job. Good job. That’s three races that (No.) 1 car has taken us out of.”
Trackhouse Racing will run three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen to drive the team’s Project 91 entry July 2 at the Chicago street course race on NBC.
The event will mark the Cup debut for the New Zealand native.
“I can honestly say I have dreamed about an opportunity in NASCAR, but really never thought it would become a reality,” van Gisbergen said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get to the states to meet everyone and prepare for Chicago. It’s NASCAR’s first time on the streets of Chicago, so in some ways everyone will be a rookie like me, but I don’t underestimate that it’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Trackhouse Racing debuted the No. 91 car — intended for renowned international drivers — with former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen. He finished 37th after he was collected in a crash. Raikkonen returned to run for the team at Circuit of the Americas this season, finishing 29th.
Chicago will mark the third race for the Project 91 car.
“I’ll concede the American racing fan might not be as familiar with Shane as they are with Kimi, but if you talk with anyone in Australia, New Zealand, and that part of the world, they will tell you he is one of the most talented drivers on the planet,” team owner Justin Marks said in a statement from the organization.
“He’s used to street racing in heavy cars, and I think everyone will be very impressed with his performance.”
Van Gisbergen drives a Chevrolet Camaro in the Supercars Championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering. He’s won series titles in 2016, ’21 and ’22. He has 78 victories and 47 poles. He’s also won the Bathurst 1000 in 2020 and ’22.
Enhance Health will sponsor the car. Darian Grubb will serve as the team’s crew chief.
The 33-year-old van Gisbergen plans to arrive in America in late June and accompany the team to the June 25 Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway before competing at Chicago the following weekend.
“There is so much I have to learn about these cars and how the races are run,” said van Gisbergen in a statement from the team. “The learning curve will be quite steep, but I am ready for everything they will throw at me. I know a lot of Kiwis and Aussies will be watching, and I’m honored to get this opportunity.”
While some teams are fulfilling their potential — doing everything their equipment and skill allow — I’ve identified eight drivers with significant untapped potential.
By “untapped potential,” I mean a difference between average running position and average finishing position. In other words, drivers who run better than they finish. Not by just a little, but by two or more positions.
With half the regular season complete, Cup Series drivers have only 13 more races to cement playoff spots. Seven of the top-16 drivers remain winless, including points leader Ross Chastain.
Eight drivers have average running positions from two up to almost five positions better than their average finishes. I show the eight drivers and the size of their untapped potentials in the graph below.
An arrow graph showing the eight drivers with the highest unfulfilled potential in terms of running and finishing averages
Each driver’s bar extends from his average running position (the upper edge of the bar) to his average finishing position (where the arrow ends). The number underneath indicates how big the difference is. I arranged drivers from left to right in order of highest untapped potential.
The table below, which summarizes some additional stats, shows that each driver faces his own challenges. The drivers rank between first and 32nd and include the driver with most wins and top 10s, as well as drivers with no wins and no top-10 finishes.
A table comparing stats of the eight drivers with the highest unfulfilled potential
DNFs are the most-obvious culprit for low finishing averages, but they don’t explain why drivers aren’t getting the finishes they’ve shown they are capable of.
Failing to finish races isn’t the only issue affecting these drivers. Chastain has only one DNF and Denny Hamlin none. In fact, Hamlin is the only driver to finish every race this year on the lead lap. Yet Hamlin is still an example of untapped potential.
As you might guess, penalties and “incidents” (which include accidents, spins, tire issues and wheel issues) are the primary drivers of gaps between running and finishing positions.
Some of these weaknesses are addressable by the driver and some by the crew. Some are harder to address than others. But addressing them means better finishes and a better season.
Penalties are an obvious area for improvement because teams can (mostly) avoid penalties. I plotted each of the eight drivers’ penalties by type below.
I do not include what I deem to be intentional infractions here. An intentional infraction is one incurred because the penalty is less damaging than the consequences of not committing the infraction. That includes things like pitting before pit road is open or speeding when pitting after an accident. My penalty counts may thus differ from others.
A vertical bar chart showing the penalties incurred by the eight drivers with the most unfulfilled potential
The diagonally striped, yellow areas indicate an off-track excursion at a road course. While not a pit road penalty, they do hinder a driver’s track position.
As with the other statistics, this group of drivers exhibits a broad range of penalty numbers. Aric Almirola’s only penalty this year is a wheel coming off the car on track at Phoenix. Chastain and Kyle Larson each have only one speeding penalty. Preece and Gragson, on the other hand, each incurred seven penalties.
Penalty impacts stretch beyond the race at which the penalty is incurred. For example, Preece sped on pit road at Martinsville after leading every lap up to that point. The penalty sent him to the back of the field. Although Preece finished 15th, a win (or top-five finish) would have boosted driver self-confidence and team morale.
Penalties also hit harder when they happen in latter stages of races because there isn’t as much time to recover. For example, three of Daniel Suárez’s four speeding penalties happened in the third stage of races.
Speeding on pit road is the most common penalty and — in theory — entirely preventable. I remain surprised by the sheer number of reports of incorrectly set dash lights causing speeding penalties. The calculations for pit road speed are not complicated.
The rest, however, is up to the driver.
The graph below tallies the number of caution-causing incidents each driver has been involved in. This number doesn’t include minor contact that may impact track position but doesn’t cause a caution.
A vertical bar chart showing the participating in caution-causing incidents for the eight drivers with the most unfulfilled potential
Larson is an incident magnet this year. It doesn’t seem to matter what track or where in the field he runs. Apart from the Bristol dirt race (where he spun) and Almirola losing a wheel at Atlanta, the remaining eight of Larson’s 10 incidents are accidents.
Larson was collateral damage in the first four accidents. His run-ins with Chastain in the last month all occurred while he was running in the top 10. A frustrated Rick Hendrick addressed the situation after Darlington, suggesting there would be payback.
Chastain leads the points but hasn’t won a race, in large part because of his own actions. His team owner put Chastain on notice, even while reassuring the pilot that the team is fully behind him. The problem is that — if Chastain changes — it may be too late. He’s already antagonized a significant fraction of the field. Like Larson, Chastain should have more wins by now.
Speaking of winning, William Byron’s presence on this list may seem a surprise. While making news for other reasons, he quietly became the statistically best driver this year. And he should be finishing almost four positions better than he is already. If Byron can tap into that untapped potential, this might be his year to make it all the way.
NASCAR has penalized four Craftsman Truck Series teams for safety infractions at Darlington Raceway and Kansas Speedway.
Each of the teams was penalized for the same infraction related to use of the driver’s side window net, a critical piece related to driver safety. Window nets cannot be used two years after the date of manufacture.
Penalized for Darlington infractions were the G2G Racing teams of drivers Brennan Poole and Dawson Cram. The Young’s Motorsports teams of drivers Spencer Boyd and Nick Leitz were penalized for Kansas Speedway infractions. G2G Racing stated it will appeal the penalty.
The crew chiefs for each team — Daniel Killius (Cram), Timothy Silva (Poole), Bradley Means (Boyd) and Joseph Lax (Leitz) — were fined $5,000 each. The teams were penalized 25 points each.
North Wilkesboro Speedway will be the fifth different track to host the NASCAR All-Star Race.
Previous All-Star events have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway (34 times), Texas Motor Speedway (two) and Atlanta Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway (one each).
Sunday’s race will complete the revival of the North Wilkesboro track, which last hosted a Cup race in 1996.
A look at the weekend schedule at North Wilkesboro:
Friday: Clouds mixed with sun in morning; more clouds in afternoon. High of 74. Little chance of rain at start of practice.
Saturday: Partly cloudy early, followed by increasing clouds with showers developing later in the day. High of 76 degrees with a 39% chance of rain at start of Cup heat races.
Sunday: High of 69 degrees with a 2% chance of rain at start of All-Star Race.
Garage open
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