MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Since the elimination style NASCAR playoffs were introduced in 2014, drivers have pulled some desperate maneuvers to compete for a championship. In Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Ross Chastain pulled off one of the slickest yet.
It took until the final lap of the nearly three-and-a-half hour event, but Chastain used the wall to his advantage and gained five spots in the final half lap. Entering Turn 3, the No. 1 car ranked 10th, but using a video-game style move riding against the wall, he found himself at fifth come the checkered flag. After the race, Brad Keselowski was disqualified, awarding the Trackhouse Racing team another position.
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With Christopher Bell in the lead, Denny Hamlin held a two-point advantage on Chastain for the final transfer spot to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway entering the final lap. By gaining a handful of positions, including getting around Hamlin, Chastain leaped six points, passing the 18-year veteran in the standings.
“Double-checked off of Turn 2 on the final lap,” Chastain explained. “Brandon [McReynolds, spotter] and Phil [Surgen, crew chief] both talked, but I heard, ‘Yes, two spots, garbled up. I knew that’s what they meant. Fully committed down the back. Grabbed fifth gear, took my hands off the wheel once I first hit the wall.”
What happened next could have gone awry and made Chastain look foolish. Instead, he had a sold-out Martinsville crowd applauding him for his heroic effort.
He admitted that he learned the move from his brother Chad Chastain, who beat him in the “NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup” video game on a GameCube at the fictitious Dodge Raceway.
“Our prep this week, it never crosses my mind,” Chastain said of the move. “I’ve done a lot of sim work this week, a lot of iRacing, laps here virtually. Never once did it cross my mind or ever try it.
“It flashed back in my head on the white flag, and I double-checked off of two. Like, through one and two I thought, I think we need two spots. They said, Yes. If it wrecks, okay, we don’t make it. It might not work, but I’ll try it.”
Due to logic and physics, Chastain wasn’t sure if the move would pay off all the way around the corner. But it did in emphatic fashion. His final lap speed of 100.483 mph (18.845 seconds) is the fastest lap ever turned in a stock car at Martinsville. The next closest speed for the final lap was Kyle Larson at 94.585 mph.
“It was fight or flight because we were out,” he said. “We had already fought trying to stay in, trying all year, right? Everything we’ve done, the points we’ve accumulated, and we fought for it, right?
“The wiring in my head? Hmm… I’m an organ donor so maybe they’ll study it one day.”
Some drivers were impressed by Chastain’s decision. Others were unsettled. Regardless, it had everyone talking.
“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open,” Joey Logano, who was one of the five drivers Chastain passed, said. “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.”
Kyle Larson finished second and when he saw a replay of the final lap, he wasn’t pleased, though he tried a similar move in last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington.
“It’s just a bad look,” Larson said. “I’m embarrassed that I did it in Darlington and if I didn’t do it last year, people wouldn’t even think to do that. I’m embarrassed myself and glad I didn’t win that way.
“That’s worse than cutting a course, in my opinion. Or it should be handled as if you cut the course. He gained all sorts of time.”
Kyle Larson calls Ross Chastain's move embarrassing and not a good look.
"I'm embarrassed I did it at Darlington (last year)… Glad I didn't win that way." pic.twitter.com/SAfNsNSz2f
— Dustin Albino (@DustinAlbino) October 30, 2022
Chase Briscoe was the first driver who Chastain passed against the wall. When he saw in his mirror that the No. 1 car was wide open, he was in disbelief and called it the coolest thing he’s seen in his life.
When the checkered flag flew moments later, Briscoe’s jaw dropped.
“I guess it’s fair because we could have all done it,” he said. “It’s not like Ross was the only guy that was allowed to do that – we all could have done it. He was just smart enough to do it at the end. It could have not worked, but it did work. Kudos to him.”
Hamlin, who missed the Championship 4 for the first time since 2018, was the most affected by Chastain’s move. Another year goes by without a championship for the No. 11 team.
But the No. 11 team had its own misfortune with three lackluster pit stops to close the race, despite leading a race-high 203 laps. Hamlin was content with the move.
“It was well executed,” Hamlin said. “These are the rules we play. You’ve got to race inside these walls and he found a way to do it better than us on the last lap.”
Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart found no dirty tactics in it, either. It was fair.
“No issue with that,” he stated. “It’s a tool in the kit and he used it. I never would have guessed it; neither would anybody but Kyle Larson. I wouldn’t change anything.”
With a last lap Hail Mary, Chastain’s Cinderella season continues. He enters Phoenix with a series-high 14 top-five finishes and he’s tied with Chase Elliott for the most top 10s with 20.
The car is destroyed, but it will have parts and pieces to celebrate the frantic finish. In less than a week, a second-year team could be popping champagne and named a Cup Series champion.
“Bigger than the last lap, just remember the fact we are putting ourselves in position to just have a shot at a championship,” Chastain added. “That’s all we ask for.”