Ross Chastain’s pivotal move earns Kurt Busch’s praise and Kyle Busch’s ire
HAMPTON, Georgia – Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway turned into a tense battle between Kurt and Kyle Busch, but it was Ross Chastain who ultimately decided the sibling rivalry.
Responding to an ask by Kurt’s team to give his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate the bottom line, Chastain positioned his No. 42 Chevrolet in the high lane to impede leader Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota on Lap 236 of 260.
Kurt Busch scooted past into first and led the final 25 laps for his victory of the season, clinching a spot in the playoffs.
Kyle Busch was miffed afterward and referred to Chastain as “a POS” in saying the move “shows you what kind of driver he is.”
“No question, man,” Busch responded when asked if Chastain intentionally blocked him to help his older brother win. “He turned right in order to get dead right in front of me.
“For a whole two laps, I just killed the tires trying to get turned underneath him. You can’t just change direction, and when I tried to change direction, he watched his mirror and changed direction with me. So he just stomped on the brake and air blocked. It’s pathetic.”
But was it ethical?
“It’s racing, man,” said Kyle Busch, who missed a weekend sweep and also getting a coveted piece of asphalt on the last weekend of racing on a surface whose demise he angrily lamented after an Xfinity victory Saturday. “You can do whatever the hell you want, it’s just going to come back on you.”
Chastain, who also was battling to stay on the lead lap, gave little credence to whether payback awaited.
“He can say what he wants,” Chastain said. “I don’t really care. I mean, yeah, he lost the race, he’s going to be mad. I’m mad, I finished (21st) a lap down with a teammate winning. That’s not what I want, either. He wanted to win, I wanted to run better.
“Do I care that Kyle Busch just lost a race and got out of the car and when the microphone went to his face, he said he owes me one? No, that’s heat of the moment. We’re really hot in there, and if he’s going to spout off and we need to talk about it, we can talk about it. Probably with Kurt being the mediator.”
While acknowledging Chastain “is going to get a little flak” for “coming off the top rope,” Kurt Busch heartily and publicly endorsed his teammate’s maneuver (including a “shake and bake” reference from “Talladega Nights”) and said “no line was crossed” in securing his 33rd career victory (and evening the 1-2 Cup finishes between the Busch brothers at two victories apiece).
Crew chief Matt McCall, whose team relayed Kurt Busch’s request for assistance from the No. 42 through Ganassi pit box communications and spotters, said the help from Chastain essentially won the race for his No. 1 Chevrolet.
“Our car was really good on the bottom, and we radioed to our spotter to tell (Chastain), ‘Hey, give us the bottom quicker than you think,’ ” Kurt Busch said. “When we asked for that, as fast as we did, Kyle’s car was good up top, so it worked in our favor both ways.
“What happened on track was the perfect scenario for a teammate to do the work that he needed to do. Ross did that in a way that gave me a sense of pride on the education and the mentorship that I have helped Ross with this year. It was a perfect give-back. Can we do that in the playoffs? No. Can you do that in a regular season where one guy has won and one guy is trying to run hard? Today was a perfect scenario for that to unfold, and Kyle will get over it pretty quick.”
After exchanging a high five with Busch in victory lane, Chastain said he was happy to help his teammate in return for the first and only year together as teammates. Busch, 42, has played a big brother role of sorts to Chastain, 28, doling out advice on how to carry himself during his first full-time season as a fully funded Cup driver.
Kurt Busch even made an offseason trip to Chastain’s family watermelon farm in Florida.
“He’s incredible,” Chastain said. “I really can’t even describe it because he’s not just a pat on the back guy. I’ve had those before that will pat you on the back but then not say anything when they see something’s wrong. And he’s literally called me, pulled me aside in the shop, pulled me aside at the track and been like ‘You are doing this wrong. This is not how you talk to people. This is not how you approach this person. It’s not how you race this person.’
“He’s been in it for 20 something years. And he’s literally, like, grabbed me and been like, ‘Listen to me. I promise you this will be better if you do it this way.’ I like that. It’s not easy in the moment, but it’s a lot easy after the fact that I actually learned something.”
There also is a little more at stake for Chastain, who is battling for a full-time ride and facing an uncertain future with the sale of Ganassi.
“Everybody’s got their own code,” he said. “We have a huge banner that hangs in CGR, ‘One team, One goal,’ and that’s to win. Kurt asked for the bottom. He’s my teammate. I’m going to give it to him.
“I’m doing everything I can to stay in the sport and driving as hard as I can and stay on the lead lap as long as we can is a part of that. … If anybody has a problem with it, they can come talk to me, and nobody came up to me afterward. I mean, my goodness gracious, his brother won the race.”