Ross Chastain is a certified villain.
Just ask any of the FOX broadcast team or any of a multitude of fans. Chastain is to blame for most on-track incidents lately. He wantonly wrecks anyone and everyone in his way to get to the front.
Oh, and he’s also responsible for global warming, our crumbling infrastructure and the national debt. Also, homeless puppies and kittens.
NASCAR and its broadcast partners are dead set on turning Chastain into the bad guy. And maybe he is. But they’re going about it all wrong.
Because the truth is, NASCAR needs a villain.
And Chastain is exactly the kind of villain it needs.
Because Chastain isn’t the kind of driver people seem hellbent on making him. He doesn’t run over other drivers for the fun of it. He doesn’t race with the entitled attitude of, “Hey, part the waters because I’m coming through.”
In fact, he’s quite the opposite. Chastain doesn’t run roughshod on the field because he feels entitled after having everything handed to him as he came through the ranks (NASCAR has those guys, but they aren’t Chastain). He races with a hunger, the hunger that comes from not knowing where the next race is coming from. He’s the bluest of blue-collar racers, from a family of farmers, not corporate executives or NASCAR Cup Series team owners or anything that might have made his path easy.
There’s been plenty of debating over whether Chastain is more like Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip or any other driver who was once vilified. And yes, he is. He’s more like those drivers than many because they didn’t come from money either. They had to scrape and scrabble and above all, they had to win, because that was the only way the next race was anything close to guaranteed. If you race like that long enough, it’s easy to forget that you don’t have to worry about next week anymore.
Unlike Earnhardt, though, Chastain hasn’t yet cemented himself as the villain. Earnhardt made a career of rattling cages. If he put you in the wall, it was probably on purpose. Waltrip was different, too, as he was as brash with his voice as he was with his racecar. Chastain isn’t given to bragging; he’d rather speak with his car.
Chastain doesn’t set out planning to crash anyone. His approach is generally to refuse to back out and to leave the other driver either just enough room to race uncomfortably or to back out. He’s not going to give other drivers extra room….