NASCAR Video-Game Move Puts Ross Chastain in Championship Race



  • Ross Chastain saved his season with a wild move on the final lap of the Martinsville playoff race.
  • While others slowed, Chastain hit the gas and wrecked his car on purpose to pass five cars.
  • While fans loved the move, some drivers were not impressed, with one even calling it “embarrassing.”

Ross Chastain already has his fair share of enemies on the track, and after his stunt in the NASCAR playoff race in Martinsville on Sunday, he may have gained a few more.

With less than a lap to go, Denny Hamlin held a two-point lead over Ross Chastain for the final spot in next weekend’s championship race. Chastain, who held the tie-breaker, either needed to make up two spots by passing cars or have Hamlin lose some in the final mile.

That seemed unlikely as Chastain was a quarter-mile behind the next car on the track, and Hamlin looked like the fastest car. 

Then came something never before seen in NASCAR.

On the short, one-mile track, drivers typically must slow way down in the paper-clip-like corners to avoid sliding up the track and into other cars or the wall. As the cars in front of Chastain — including Hamlin — slowed for the final turn, Chastain did the opposite, hitting the gas, taking his hands off the wheel, intentionally slamming into the wall, and zooming past five cars as if he had just used a mushroom in Mario Kart.

Here is another angle from the stands that better shows how much faster Chastain was going than everybody else. 

This video is not sped up.

 

Chastain went from 10th to fifth in the final corner and, more importantly, went from two points behind Hamlin to four points ahead on the last lap. That difference clinched the fourth spot in the championship and eliminated Hamlin.

“It was a video-game move off into Turn 3!” NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. yelled. “Puts the car in the wall, wide open [on the gas] all the way around Turns 3 and 4 … I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.”

Some drivers are not happy about the precedent

While fans were shocked and thrilled, NASCAR might have a problem with Chastain’s move and the precedent it sets. The strategy might be fun because it has never been pulled off before, but it will lose its luster quickly if drivers start trying this maneuver more often.

This sentiment was shared by defending NASCAR champ Kyle Larson, who may have inspired Chastain with a similar move at Darlington last year that failed when Hamlin blocked him at the line.

“Embarrassed that I did [inspire the move]… honestly,” Larson said after the race. “That’s not a good look for our sport at all. I don’t know what you guys think. You probably think it’s cool, but I think it is pretty embarrassing. 

For now, according to NASCAR, the move is legal, but there is already momentum for officials to address the move in the off-season.

Chastain, who has made several enemies on the track the last two seasons with his aggressive, throwback style — including Hamlin — was asked about the move and thanked his time as a kid playing NASCAR video games.

“Played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube with [my brother] growing up,” Chastain said. “You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work. I did that when I was eight years old. I grabbed fifth gear, asked off of two on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn’t tell who was leading. I made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back. Full committed. Basically let go of the wheel, hoping I didn’t catch the Turn 4 access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it.”

One advantage Chastain had, other than courage, was this year’s NextGen cars can take more pounding than last year’s. So while Chastain certainly roughed up his car, it was still mostly in one piece after the race.

 

Now that we know it can work in real life, everybody knows, and according to former champ Joey Logano, that’s not a good thing. 

“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open,” 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 … 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.”

According to Jeff Gluck of The Athletic, Logano suggested a rule similar to Formula One, where drivers can’t pass other cars if they go off the track. In this case, Logano wondered if NASCAR might penalize drivers for passing after hitting the wall. 

In the meantime, Chastain’s move puts him in the Championship Four and gives Pitbull’s Trackhouse Racing a car in the championship in just their second season.

One person who was not upset with the move was Pitbull’s partner at Trackhouse, Justin Marks.

 





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