Ross Chastain Noah Gragson

Denny Hamlin’s idea of a single-elimination NASCAR bracket challenge spread like wildfire over the past couple weeks. While it’s still unofficial, Hamlin and Dirty Mo Media set up a bracket challenge for people to participate in and win prizes.

Hamlin’s goal with the bracket challenge was to increase ratings, and develop more storylines for the summer months by channeling what makes March Madness so special. Filling out a bracket and having a rooting interest in each matchup.

At this past weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin’s win was overshadowed a bit by a fight between Noah Gragson and Ross Chastain. It wasn’t a very quick fight. After some words were exchanged, Chastain landed a solid jab to Gragson’s jaw and right when Gragson was about to throw a punch of his own, security stepped in.

While it was short, clips of the fight went viral on social media. Even Pat McAfee turned the fight into a meme when describing the Nikola Jokić-Mat Ishbia altercation. If you listened to this week’s episode of Actions Detrimental with Denny Hamlin, Hamlin and co-host Jared Allen revealed an interesting detail that may or may not have been a factor. Kansas was the first race of the Bracket Challenge, and Noah Gragson vs. Ross Chastain was the 32/1 matchup.

Allen: “I think the most overlooked part of this bracket is in the top left corner. I’m not saying that this bracket fueled this altercation, but I’m not saying it didn’t either. Noah Gragson vs. Ross Chastain.”

Hamlin: “Okay, so let me tell you. When I was talking about, before the race, the drivers knew who they were matched up against. Noah says, ‘Who do I got?’ And I said, ‘Chastain.’ He was like, ‘Oh well.’ So you knew it was in his mind. He knew it was in his mind. And so, are we fueling fights over here?”

Allen: “The Denny Hamlin Bracket Challenge fueled quite possibly the best social media altercation of the NASCAR season.”

Hamlin: “Fantastic. That’s what we wanted. More content, more storylines. You got it.”

Sure enough, Chastain and Gragson were paired up against each other and the two were racing each other in the final stage of the race. Gragson was up high, Chastain was down low coming off of Turn 4. Chastain got tight and nearly hit Gragson, but gave him just enough room. Regardless, Gragson hit the wall and felt Chastain didn’t give him enough room to make the corner. Chastain finished fifth, while Gragson eventually fell to 29th. Hamlin jokingly took credit, pointing out that more content and storylines will come out of something like this if it’s done in an official capacity.

Did Denny Hamlin’s Bracket Challenge cause this altercation? Who knows. If so, imagine what will happen if NASCAR officially does this. These drivers want to know who they’re up against, and want to beat them, simply for bragging rights. Put up $5 million, and it will be a wild five weeks every season.

[Actions Detrimental with Denny Hamlin/Photo: NASCAR]

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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