Noah Gragson took Ross Chastain’s best shot — squarely to the jaw — and despite being restrained before a counterpunch could land, still left the situation as the clear winner.
He initiated a confrontation with Ross the Boss. And then, he called out the … manhood … of the rest of the garage.
“I’m just over it. Nobody else has the (guts) to at least confront him, at least just grab him and do something, he’s just going to keep doing it,” Gragson said. “Nobody confronts the guy, he just keeps doing it and I’m sick and tired of it.”
We’re just praying that the move to Toyota next year brings with it, speed. Because that’s all that’s keeping Gragson from being a superstar.
NASCAR POLL: Ross Chastain vs. Noah Gragson? Denny Hamlin’s bumper? Um, passing? What stood out most at Kansas? Vote!
SPEED FREAKS: Ross Chastain’s punch, Denny Hamlin’s punch, and now Darlington? Yes!
He checks every other box. Speaks his mind. Doesn’t back down. Races hard.
But most of all, he’s relatable. He’s admits to throwing up on himself late in races because he’s so focused/nervous he forgets to breathe. He’s rocking an absurd bowl haircut, reportedly just because Austin Dillon bet him that he wouldn’t. That after a stint with a gorgeous Kentucky Waterfall down in the Xfinity Series.
Kyle Larson watched and smiled as Gragson grabbed Chastain by the fire suit. Joey Logano gawked in the background. Denny Hamlin took it in via a reporter’s phone. Tyler Reddick tweeted.
None of them — Brennan Poole, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, William Byron, teammate Daniel Suarez — nobody ever did anything other than talk despite their own run-ins with Chastain.
Leave it to a rookie to (at least try to) do a veteran’s job.
Let’s go through the gears.
First gear: Boo birds sing, Denny Hamlin boos back
While Chastain continues to fight off the villain role with smiles and “Aw shucks, I’m sorry’s”, Denny Hamlin is leaning into it.
And it’s awesome.
As the boos rained down, Hamlin booed back, just before completing a joyous and unapologetic interview. But did he have anything to apologize for?
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Hamlin and Larson put on a duel for the ages over the last handful of laps, and there was some contact on the last lap. But, if that’s anyone but Hamlin, nobody is booing.
Larson didn’t crash, he finished second.
And while you might hate the winner, don’t let it skew the fact Hamlin gave NASCAR just what it needed — an exciting finish to a fantastic race.
Second gear: Nothing intermediate about ’em
Remember when fans dreaded cookie-cutter, 1½-mile tracks?
How times have changed.
As of Monday, we won’t be in Kansas anymore (until September) but we might wish we could be more often.
How about a record 37 lead changes betwixt 12 drivers Sunday? That’s the most passes for the lead in a 400-mile race on a 1½-mile circuit in NASCAR history.
Third gear: William Byron flashes championship mettle
If William Byron goes on to win a championship this season, circle Sunday’s result.
Yeah, we know, Byron has won two races this year.
But he and the No. 24 team showed real grit Sunday, falling two laps down after a speeding penalty and multiple brushes with the wall, before rallying to finish third.
Wins are nice. Races like Sunday win you titles.
Fourth gear: Darlington debrief
The numbers say Hamlin will have a good shot at back-to-back victories this weekend.
Hamlin’s career average finish of 7.5 is tops among all active drivers and he’s scored four wins and 12 top-fives there. Dark-horses include Erik Jones (10.7, two wins, seven top 10s in 10 starts) and Austin Dillon (12.3, 12 top 20s in 13 starts).
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: NASCAR: Ross Chastain takes a swing, Denny Hamlin takes the win