Ross Chastain walks onstage during driver intros prior to the 2023 Würth 400 at Dover International Speedway
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Do You Know the Melon Man?: In Defense of Ross Chastain

I'm sorry, I seriously don't understand what all the negative vibe is around Ross Chastain.

Hell, I love the guy. His dust-up with Brennan Poole this past weekend at Dover is just the latest reason he's been criticized by media, some fans, other drivers, you name it. Feelings were hurt when he spun Poole out, but Chastain was just doing his job. NASCAR is hardly meant to be a demolition derby, I get that, but the point is to finish ahead of people — and Chastain accomplished that, and finished second on that crazy Delaware track.

Poole finished 33rd.

Why, in this day and age, do we expect a competitor to hold hands with his adversaries, keep everything clean, and sing Kumbaya? What you should be rocking to when you race is LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out." This is NASCAR, damn it.

First of all, Chastain's not really a jerk. He's only a jerk on the racetrack, and he's only doing it because of the obvious — he wants to toss watermelons. Chastain-ese translation of wanting to toss watermelons?: He wants to win.

Leave the etiquette and manners to libraries, weddings, and the golf course. It's not like any of us in the real world experience etiquette and manners when we drive on the local interstate heading to work, so why would we expect a NASCAR driver to be polite? And, it's not like the guy is doing it all for show. He's not a big-time racing legacy with a long leash guaranteed because of surname. While the likes of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney and Ty Gibbs and Austin Dillon had the benefit of strong family ties to the sport, Chastain's come into this cold turkey, and when you enter NASCAR like that, it is basically one strike and you're out. So, why not have a preemptive strike kind of method to how you race?

While Chastain's demeanor on the track would lead some to believe he's a complete jack-hole, that's not what it is. He's carving out his own niche, and considering his No. 2 finish in the Cup Series postseason last year, the guy is pretty stinkin' good at this. So he's ticked off Elliott, Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell and veterans like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — he doesn't seem to care and will continue to race like it's his final opportunity. You know how when you listen or watch The Dale Jr. Download podcast and many of the old-school talent of the sport is looking back on their careers and talk about how it truly was a paycheck-to-paycheck situation in NASCAR?

Well, Chastain may make more money than the old timers of the sport did, but he races like he's going paycheck-to-paycheck. He's relatable to race fans. Hell, most of us are in that situation ourselves. The reason fans are lulled to sleep during many Sunday races is because of "clean racing." The drivers (and owners) of course love clean racing, because it means they'll come home with an intact hot rod, and they'll be able to go into the luxury bus lot and comfortably be able to let their children play with the competitor's children, and their wives can continue sipping Chardonnay together while comparing diamond rings.

Think Ralph Earnhardt and Fireball Roberts and the Allison brothers were thinking about the luxury bus lot and Chardonnay when they raced on dirt half a century ago? Nope, they were thinking about feeding their families first and foremost, and fixing the car to go do it again secondly. And, I'm not sure there was a third reason. None of those ol' legends did a great job when they were interviewed, because they weren't doing this to have a camera stuck in their faces. They weren't there to enunciate. They were there for pure love of auto racing, and the pure need to win so they could keep going — and they were not there to make friends and be named Mr. Congeniality in December.

That's what made the sport so badass.

I'm not sure Chastain has a bunch of friends in the garage, but it's refreshing.

Hell, the guy worked on his family's watermelon farm as a kid in Alva — a sultry rural town of southwest Florida near Fort Myers that you literally have to look up on a map (even as a me, I'm one and had to look it up). While other kids were getting addicted to Xbox in the air conditioning, Chastain was helping his family out in agriculture just a few miles away from the skeeters, gators, and snakes of the Everglades.

Maybe that's what makes this guy special.

So, when I see Chastain spike a watermelon (that phrase could be used in multiple ways, catch my drift?) in victory lane, I love it. To me, it represents NASCAR's pure-hearted roots, something that is sorely lacking these days — and you can tell because the sport has dipped in popularity now for nearly two decades. Catching a jet and flying all over the country differs greatly from the days when the Petty family would load up the race car behind the family station wagon and would go try to win a trophy, and more importantly — prize money.

The driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevy just gets "it."

MORE: Ross Chastain Came in Like a "Wrecking Ball" and Earned Himself a New Nickname at Richmond