Ross Chastain vs. Noah Gragson is the rivalry NASCAR needs

Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing Team, Noah Gragson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing Team, Noah Gragson, Legacy Motor Club, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson are two of the biggest personalities in NASCAR today. Combining their characters with a big conflict is a perfect storm for the sport.

Since his unlikely rise to the top of NASCAR, which saw him suddenly score two wins and a Championship 4 appearance last season, Ross Chastain has ruffled tons of feathers in just two years of competing at the sharp end of the field.

His countless incidents with drivers such as Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, A.J. Allmendinger, and even Brennan Poole have quickly caused fans and drivers alike to jump at the chance to hate.

While drivers have attempted retaliation, such as when Hamlin fenced him on the final restart at Phoenix Raceway earlier this season, nobody had ever confronted him about his on-track actions.

That is, until this past Sunday, when his victim of the day, Noah Gragson, approached him in a confrontation that quickly turned physical.

Gragson was unhappy with Chastain after he ran him up the track and into the turn four wall in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway.

While he never actually made contact with Gragson, Chastain did run him wide, changing the trajectory of the No. 42 Chevrolet on the exit of the turn, which ultimately forced him up into the wall.

The Legacy Motor Club rookie then spun off of turn two later in the stint, and while that was unrelated to the Chastain incident, he did have a solid top 15 day going before that. However, Gragson’s anger didn’t stem solely from that one incident.

"“He took care of us at Talladega, and we’re Chevy teammates. Then he fenced us here, and I’m just over it. Nobody else has the balls to confront him…I’m ready to fight him and I couldn’t even get a shot in because the security guards got in the middle of it.”"

The 24-year-old’s confrontation with Chastain was the first of its kind, and that resonated quite well with Elliott once the fight concluded.

This newly formed rivalry between Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson is a perfect storm for NASCAR.

A renowned watermelon farmer from Alva, Florida, Chastain struggled to make it in NASCAR’s big leagues in the early part of his career, driving for several mediocre teams in all three series. He even had his Chip Ganassi Racing Xfinity Series ride taken from him because of legal issues with the primary sponsor of the No. 42 Chevrolet.

Seeing him scratch and claw his way to a top-end Cup Series ride through hard work and on-track results is a modern-day rags to riches story that anybody can get behind. But his repeated aforementioned incidents with most of sport’s brightest stars has since taken away his likeability.

Still, he’s a great character for modern-day NASCAR.

Then you have Gragson, a 24-year-old hotshot rookie who has had success in both the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, scoring eight wins in the latter last year.

He has also made a name for himself by being one of the most fun, down to earth, and outspoken drivers in recent memory. Look no further than when he blatantly stated his hatred toward then-Xfinity Series rival Ty Gibbs numerous times at the end of last year, or when he did a ton of funny acts with primary sponsor Wendy’s prior to the 2023 Daytona 500.

Both drivers are among an extremely thin circle of NASCAR characters that the sport desperately needs.

Ever since the departures of fan favorites Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth over the last several years, fans have struggled to find new drivers to support, especially if they don’t gravitate toward Elliott.

This has caused many to stop watching.

Heck, when Elliott was out with an injury for six weeks earlier this season, Cup Series viewership dropped by about 500,000 on average, according to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press.

That’s because no stars, aside from Elliott, have come in to replace those drivers in the eyes of fans, according to Hamlin.

"“No one even knows who the stars of our sport are now. They only know the old names. Until we actually have ‘superstars,’ our sport will always be niche.”"

The sport lacking stardom from its new blood is one thing. Combine that with most drivers nowadays seeming more and more like PR machines and being rather bland, and you can see why it is hard for fans to attach themselves to them. A byproduct of this is also having far less rivalries.

That’s why the recent feud between Chastain and Gragson is so significant.

Not since Dale Earnhardt has the Cup Series had a star driver like Chastain who has had success at the expense of others being done dirty, only to pride himself as just a “hard racer”.  Likewise, not since Kyle Busch entered the Cup Series part-time in 2004 has the sport seen such an outspoken, unfiltered rookie like Gragson.

These two are NASCAR’s biggest personalities. The pair of them coming to blows creates so much potential for the sport in the near future, especially with officials ruling that no further action will be taken after Sunday’s post-race shenanigans.

Suddenly, fans have the rare opportunity to side with a driver, and maybe become more attached to one. Suddenly, fans have yet another reason to tune in just to root against the villain Chastain, or to see if Gragson will pay him back — or even if there will be another fight.

All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark. Next

Whether anything else actually happens between Chastain and Gragson is another discussion. But for NASCAR’s sake, fans can only hope that this feud continues for a while longer.