MARTINSVILLE, Va. — For those who witnessed with their own eyes Ross Chastain’s incredible move from 10th to fifth in the final two corners of Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the reaction was stunning disbelief.
“Did I just see that? Am I hallucinating?”
In the immortal words of Jack Buck who called a hobbling Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series on CBS Radio, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”
What Chastain did looked like it was straight out of a cartoon. For others, it was a cross between “Herbie the Love Bug” and “Flubber” – two Walt Disney movies from days gone by that had fairly outrageous premises and cinematography.
For those that remember “Back to the Future,” Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet looked like it was equipped with a “Flux Capacitor.”
Fittingly, Chastain admitted that he learned that move from a video game, “NASCAR 2005 on GameCube.”
Chastain’s hopes of advancing into the Championship Four in the November 6 race at Phoenix Raceway were all but done as the final lap of Sunday’s race began. Denny Hamlin was in fifth place and was set to claim the final playoff position if he finished ahead of Chastain in points.
With nothing to lose, Chastain did the unimaginable.
He popped it in fifth gear, mashed the throttle and took his hands off the steering wheel as he entered the radius of the wall in Turns 3 and 4. He let the wall steer his car while his engine was pegged at full throttle in a brilliant, albeit it bold move.
Chastain’s smoking car from the friction of carbon fiber against concrete looked like a rocket car going 250 miles an hour.
He zoomed past Hamlin’s Toyota at the checkered flag and claimed the fourth and final playoff position.
It looked like it was straight out of the old “Joie Chitwood Thrill Show.”
As Nate Ryan of NBCSports.com quipped, “That’s the most NASCAR thing ever.”
It will go done as one of the most defining moments in NASCAR history, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next season.
It’s this generation’s fight in turn three of the 1979 Daytona 500 or the “Pass in the Grass” in the 1987 running of “The Winston.”
It will be replayed over and over for years to come.
Even then, it’s almost unbelievable that it not only happened, but that it actually worked.
“I fully committed down the back, grabbed fifth gear, took my hands off the wheel once I first hit the wall,” Chastain explained. “I think the first time I ever saw a race car do that was on a video game, the GameCube 2005 console. I don’t know if anybody else in the world had those. My brother Chad beat me doing it at the fictitious I think it was Dodge Raceway somewhere in a fake city, somewhere in Florida.
“I never thought about it. Our prep this week, it never crossed my mind. I’ve done a lot of sim work this week, a lot of iRacing, a lot of stuff, laps here virtually.
“Never once did it cross my mind or ever try it. I want to make that clear. The last time would have been a long time ago before I was even thinking about being a NASCAR driver.
“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 it make it.’
“It might not work, but I’ll try it.”
It was a cross between desperation and physics that made Chastain’s move work.
“I thought why not?” Chastain admitted. “That’s a motto that some buddies and I have back home. We live by ‘why not?’ To apply that to the Cup Series in this scenario, there are rules. There are a lot of rules out here.
“I didn’t know how it would all work out. I didn’t know if the physics would work to make it around the corner, but it did. I’m sure glad it did.
“When I grabbed fifth gear, I thought, ‘Well, it’s going now.’ My foot stayed down. I committed to the wall early. It didn’t slow down, so it worked.”
Chastain referred to it as the human condition known as “Fight or Flight.”
Chastain decided to fight to the finish.
“It was fight or flight because we were out,” Chastain continued. “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 fans loved it. Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing team wildly celebrated it. The media rushed to social media and to the keyboards of their computers to try to make sense of it.
But many of Chastain’s competitors hope it never happens again. They are even encouraging NASCAR to make such a wild move illegal, even though all parts of the racing surface inside of the walls are considered inbounds.
“We all did it as kids, we all did it in the video game,” said Team Penske’s Joey Logano. “That’s how you made speed in the video game, that’s what you did. It’s something we all thought about at one point. At least I thought about it a lot, but never really had the need to do it. Also, kind of thought of how many races I could have won here by doing that.
“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right? 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.
“I don’t know if it’s the safest thing for the driver or the fans when you have a car right up at the wall hauling the mail like that. What if that fence, gate, wasn’t closed all the way? What if it was bent and caught his car? That’s a big risk that Ross was willing to take.
“God bless him, that’s awesome.
“I don’t think we need to do that every week.”
In Logano’s mind, Chastain let “Pandora” out of the box.
“The box is open now,” Logano continued. “It’s going to continue to happen until we do something about it. Phoenix presents the opportunity for it, too. A little different entry point and all that. But, yeah, when you’re going for a championship, you’re probably going to do it.
“You’re leading going into the last corner, you’re going to put it in the wall? Geez. It’s cool, it happened once, we don’t need to make this a thing.”
So, what is Logano’s solution to enforcement of such a move?
“I think it’s pretty easy: you can’t hit the wall and gain a position,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty simple way of looking at it. It’s kind of a dumbed-down version. If you hit the wall, you gain a spot, you should be at the tail end of the field.”
Other drivers, such as Kyle Larson, called it a “Circus.”
“I think we’ve been crashing race cars here for I don’t know how long this place has been open,” Chastain said. “For 75 years we’ve been crashing cars. I just crashed another car, so…
“That’s how I look at it. “
But NASCAR always has been the “Circus of auto racing” and everybody loves to see what’s next under the “Big Top Tent.”
Safe to say they had never seen that before Sunday’s final lap at Martinsville Speedway.
“That’s sinking in,” Chastain said. “Did we get the track record?”
Chastain’s final lap was faster than any lap ever at Martinsville Speedway. It was clocked at 18.845 seconds for 100.483 miles per hour. The track record is 100.281 miles per hour set by Joey Logano in 2014.
On Saturday, Larson won the pole with a lap at 19.709 for a speed of 96.078 mph.
“It’s sinking in that we did something that no one else has ever done,” Chastain concluded. “That’s hard to do in just the world that we live in in 2022, but definitely our sport.”