Friday 5: Will someone try Ross Chastain video game move at Phoenix?
Driver code and integrity have been among the phrases drivers have spoken when they discussed Ross Chastain’s rim-riding charge on the final lap of last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
While the move has created a buzz on social media for NASCAR and added energy to a season that has seen 19 different winners and two first-timers in Sunday’s Cup championship race (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock), questions still persist about what Chastain did.
With NASCAR electing not to outlaw the move, some drivers worry it could be attempted this weekend at Phoenix Raceway when Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series titles are at stake.
Chase Elliott acknowledges the attention that Chastain’s move bought the sport but has concerns about it.
“I think from a global perspective of our sport, it is kind of embarrassing in some ways just from an integrity standpoint of what we do week-to-week,” Elliott said Thursday at NASCAR’s championship media day at the Phoenix Convention Center.
“From a standpoint of a guy doing what he needed to do to get the job done, yeah, I think can have respect for that for sure. But you’re not allowed to cut courses, road courses and things like that.
“I just think from a global perspective, for the integrity of what we do, it’s not a great look, in my opinion.”
Kyle Larson spoke up against the move after last weekend’s race, calling what Chastain did “embarrassing.”
Larson acknowledged he tried a similar move in last year’s Southern 500 but Denny Hamlin was high enough on the track to keep Larson behind to win that race.
“I’m embarrassed that I did it at Darlington,” Larson said. “Maybe if I didn’t do it last year, people wouldn’t even think to do that, so I’m embarrassed myself and glad that I didn’t win that way (at Darlington). It’s not just a good look. Not a good look. … It’s embarrassing.”
Larson suggested that driver code should be enough to prevent it but when asked if there is driver code any more, he said: “There should be.”
Joey Logano said last week that NASCAR needed a rule in place before this weekend’s races. Series officials said the rules have been the same for 35 points races in the matter, so they saw no need to change the rules for the championship event.
“It’s not the X Games,” Logano said. “This is NASCAR. It’s a different thing than that.
“I mean, there’s a place for it. Like I said, it was cool, it was a neat move. We all talked about doing it before he actually did it. He had a good reason for doing it. He’s rewarded for being in the championship. That’s fine, all well and good.
“The next time it happens it’s not as cool. ... All of a sudden now a leader has to put himself in the fence to finish first. At that point it doesn’t look really right.”
Noah Gragson, competing for the Xfinity title Saturday, questions how NASCAR could even officiate the maneuver had they made a rule preventing it.
“How are you going to write a rule?” Gragson said. “You can’t hit the wall on the last lap to advance your position. … It’s too much of a judgment call in my opinion. I don’t think you’re going to see a ton of guys doing it in the future. Maybe once or twice in the future, but it’s not going to be every car on the last lap. It would be stupid in my opinion.
“It really worked because of the situation and scenario he was in. Obviously, that was not an everyday situation or scenario. I don’t think you’re going to see it a ton. … There’s not enough scenarios where people are going to tear up their (cars).”
2. All in
Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks admitted he was nervous before last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
He “so badly” wanted to be a part of the story this weekend at Phoenix.
With Ross Chastain’s desperate charge, Marks and Trackhouse are in the title event. It marks the first time in the last three years that a team owned by someone other than Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs or Roger Penske is competing for the Cup crown.
“I want this more than I’ve wanted anything professionally in my life ever, and I’ve taken massive personal risk to start this company,” Marks said of reaching the title race. “I believe in it more than I’ve believed in anything, more than I ever believed in my own ability behind the wheel. I believe in it more than any other business enterprise I’ve ever started.”
So how much of a risk did Marks take to start Trackhouse Racing two years ago?
“I have an opportunity, very successful family, and I have an opportunity to have a dream that I can chase,” he said.
“Just about everything that is available to me in my life because of those circumstances, I pushed into Trackhouse. This was it. This was all the chips in. If this didn’t work, to be honest with you, there wasn’t a ton to fall back on.
“So when I talk about risk, it’s the fact that when I look at my life and where I came from and how much I love this sport, how much I love racing and love these people that work here and love being at the racetrack, there’s just nothing else I wanted to do.”
Once he made the decision to start a Cup team, Marks admitted it was “scary … uncomfortable.
“Even last year when we were up at RCR, just not knowing if it was going to work. We didn’t own our charter. Camping World, Marcus Lemonis came on board two weeks into the season. We didn’t have much sponsorship. He provided us this opportunity. I didn’t know where I was going to get my charter from or how I was going to make this work.
“Once we acquired Chip Ganassi Racing, I had no idea if General Motors was going to look at us and go those guys have earned an opportunity to be a key partner alongside Hendrick and alongside RCR, or if they were going to see it as an opportunity to save some money and just commit to those two teams.
“So going through that whole process was stress and fear. But I think it was all belief. I just believed that this was a moment for an enterprise like this to be successful. And then as things started happening, as we closed the Ganassi sale and then as we signed our agreement with Chevrolet and then Worldwide Express and Jockey came on and then we started winning, in that moment it was like, okay, I think it was the right decision.”
3. One final ride in the No. 18
Sunday marks the final Cup race for Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing, ending a 15-year tenure that saw Busch win two Cup titles with the organization.
Busch joins Richard Childress Racing after this season to drive the No. 8 car.
Busch’s 56 Cup victories at JGR rank fifth all-time for most wins by a driver with a single team. Richard Petty holds the record, scoring 196 of his 200 wins at Petty Enterprises. He’s followed by Jeff Gordon (93 wins for Hendrick Motorsports), Jimmie Johnson (83 wins for Hendrick Motorsports) and Dale Earnhardt (67 wins for Richard Childress Racing).
Busch has expressed his disappointment with not continuing with JGR. The team was working on a contract extension this season when a potential sponsor pulled out, leaving JGR scrambling to secure a sponsor for the No. 18 car.
Without a sponsor in place, Busch and JGR could not come to an agreement.
“It’s going to be the end of something that was really special and great, really,” car owner Joe Gibbs said this week. “When you think about 15 years and everything that the race team and Kyle has been able to do, it’s just been — it’s been a fantastic time for us. … To end all that, obviously there’s a lot of emotion, and you wish that it could have kept going.
“We tried in every way for over a year to try and get things to work out. They just didn’t.”
Busch’s final season with JGR saw his title hopes end in the first round after two blown engines. David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said: “We cost Kyle Busch a shot at his third championship.”
Joe Gibbs Racing is set to announce Ty Gibbs as the new driver of the No. 18 Cup car for next year. That announcement will come at the end of this season.
4. Fire from within
Saturday marks the fifth time in seven seasons that Justin Allgaier has reached the Xfinity Series championship race. He seeks his first series title.
Last year, Allgaier failed to reach the the title race. That’s motivated him this year.
“I’ll never forget the feeling of rolling into here at Phoenix, just that empty feeling,” said Allgaier, who fell six points short of making last year’s championship event. “It was a feeling that I never wanted to have again.”
Allgaier would have missed the title race for a second year in a row had Ty Gibbs not wrecked teammate Brandon Jones out of the lead on the final lap last week at Martinsville Speedway. Jones needed to win to advance. With him in the wall and out of title contention, Allgaier took the final transfer spot, giving JR Motorsports three drivers in contention for a championship: Allgaier, Noah Gragson and Josh Berry. They’ll race Gibbs for the crown Saturday (6 p.m. ET on USA Network).
“When I left here (last year), it put something in me, a fire, that I didn’t want to come back and not be in (the title race),” Allgaier said. “I think that was a big deal for me.
“This year has more meaningful experience. I’m definitely more excited to be here this year. I think you are able to understand the gravity of what we’re up against. I’ve got three competitors, I know how much they want it, and I think equally they know how much I want it. It’s going to be a barnburner of a race.”
5. One last chance
Sunday’s Cup season finale provides one last chance for drivers to continue streaks, end droughts or just close the season with a good result.
Six drivers who won a Cup race last year have yet to win this season. They are: Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell.
Drivers with consecutive winning streaks in jeopardy of ending this weekend: Keselowski (11 seasons in a row with a win), Truex (seven) and Blaney (five).
Kevin Harvick has had 18 consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix. That’s tied for the most top 10s in a row at any track. Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty each had 18 consecutive top 10s at North Wilkesboro Speedway.