Long: Ross Chastain’s frenzied finish divides competitors
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ross Chastain was trying to comprehend what he had done nearly an hour after his video game move upended the Cup playoffs and thrilled a sold-out Martinsville Speedway while also leaving some drivers uneasy about such a maneuver and NASCAR officials pondering a possible rule change to make sure it never happens again.
“It’s sinking in the we did something that no one else has ever done,” Chastain said of his last-lap, rim-riding run.
But what to call the wall-hugging move was too difficult a question for him to answer.
“I’ll check the Internet,” he said.
It was easier, instead, for him to answer how he drove his car into the wall as fast as he could.
“It was fight or flight,” Chastain explained.
Chastain was two points behind Denny Hamlin for the final transfer spot to next week’s championship race on the last lap. Chastain was too far behind to gain those two positions so he put his car into fifth gear on the backstretch, planted his Chevrolet against the wall, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his vehicle around the final quarter mile while he floored the throttle.
“My brain could not comprehend, my bandwidth was shot when I entered (Turn) 3 and I grabbed fifth gear,” Chastain said. “Everything went blurry. I couldn’t comprehend it.”
It’s understandable why. Data from Chastain’s car reveals that its peak speed through Turns 3 and 4 on the last lap was 50 mph faster than a normal lap.
Cole Custer, who was trailing Chastain, told NBC Sports that he originally thought the No. 1 Chevrolet lost its brakes until he realized what Chastain was doing.
“That was crazy,” Custer said. “He’s got some balls. That was cool.”
Chastain’s car appeared to be going at a cartoonish rate of speed compared to the rest of the field.
He passed five cars between Turn 3 and the finish line to gain enough points to beat Hamlin for a chance to race Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Martinsville winner Christopher Bell for the championship Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.
“How did that work?” Chastain later said of his move.
However it did, it made for the fastest lap a stock car has ever run at Martinsville Speedway, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The track record was 18.954 seconds. Chastain’s final lap was 18.845 seconds.
Chastain said he had never tried anything like that in a car before. He said he first saw such a move more than 15 years ago in a video game.
“My brother Chad beat me doing it,” Chastain said.
“It flashed back in my head on the white flag (lap). … If it wrecks, OK, we don’t make it. It might not work, but I’ll try it.”
Not everyone was enamored by the move.
Kyle Larson, who tried a similar wall-riding move at Darlington last year, frowned upon Chastain’s actions Sunday.
“It’s just a bad look,” Larson said. “I’m embarrassed that I did it at Darlington. 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 went on to say: “If you think (Chastain’s move is fair), why would you think that’s fair?”
Logano enjoyed Chastain’s move but also suggested that the sport should not see such a daring ploy again, citing safety concerns.
“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right?” Logano said. “Now every Xfinity race, every Truck race, every Cup race, no matter the track, this wall riding is going to be a play. That’s not good. That’s not good.
“I mean, it was awesome, it was cool. It happened for the first time. There’s no rule against it. There needs to be a rule against this one because I don’t know if you want the whole field riding the wall coming to the checkered flag.”
Logano suggested that a rule needed to be in place before this weekend’s championship races in Truck, Xfinity and Cup.
A NASCAR spokesperson stated Sunday night that Chastain’s move “was within the bounds of the rule book and (officials) will discuss any driver concerns this week.”
Hamlin, eliminated by Chastain’s charge, admitted his team’s struggles in the pits played a factor in not making it to the title race. Still, to lose on such a move by a competitor.
“It’s funny,” Hamlin said, “but not for me. … We lost on a move that’s fair game.”
Chase Briscoe admitted that “I think all of us have thought about” doing what Chastain did but don’t.
Briscoe was the first car Chastain passed. Then Bubba Wallace, Logano, William Byron and Hamlin just before the finish line.
“I wish that I would have done it now,” Briscoe said of Chastain’s move. “It’s like a 50-50 deal. Any of us could’ve done it, but is it fair to the (five) guys he passed? Probably not. But all (five) of us could have done the same thing.”
Instead, it was Chastain who did it.
But after watching a video of his daring move?
“I can’t believe it’s me in there,” he said.