How does NASCAR prevent Ross Chastain’s incredible move at Martinsville from becoming the norm?
That’s the question the sanctioning body faces in the wake of Chastain’s Hail Mary to race for the championship at Phoenix on Sunday. Make no mistake, the video game move that Chastain executed at full-throttle to gain five spots on the last lap was phenomenal. It’s a worthy viral highlight. But it also could create a dangerous precedent. And Chastain’s competitors realize that.
First, let’s break down what Chastain did. He knew on the final lap of the race that he had fewer points than Denny Hamlin did for the fourth and final spot in the final round of the playoffs. He had to do something and he wasn’t close enough to the cars in front to make a traditional pass. So Chastain upshifted heading into the corner and purposely drove his car into the wall with his foot on the accelerator.
It worked. Chastain’s last lap was nearly two seconds faster than race winner Christopher Bell’s. Chastain went from 10th to fifth and even passed Hamlin on the last lap for insurance points in his title quest.
After the race, Chastain said that he remembered doing the move in EA Sports’ NASCAR video games as a kid and always wondered if it would work. With nothing to lose, he figured he’d try it.
Chastain’s brazenness to make the move should be applauded. And also prevented going forward. After Chastain gained so much speed over the final two corners of the race, his fellow competitors wondered if his maneuver would become a last-lap norm.
“We all did it as kids,” Joey Logano said. He’s one of the three drivers racing against Chastain for the title next week. “We all did it in the video game. that’s how you made speed in the video game, that’s what you did.”
“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? … That’s not good.”
“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 even called Chastain’s move embarrassing and said that he was embarrassed that he rode the wall in an attempt to pass Hamlin on the final lap of last season’s fall race at Darlington.
“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 think to do that so I’m embarrassed myself and glad that I didn’t win that way. It’s just not a good look. Just not a good look. Between yesterday [with Ty Gibbs wrecking Brandon Jones for the win], how embarrassing that was in the Xfinity race and there at the finish, that’s just not — that’s embarrassing.”
Whether or not you agree with Larson’s take that Chastain’s move was embarrassing, NASCAR has to figure out a way to prevent what Chastain did from happening again. Why? We’ll let Ryan Blaney explain.
“I guess we’ll all start doing it now coming down to the end of the race,” Blaney said.
Or if Blaney doesn’t convince you, here’s what Chase Briscoe had to say. Briscoe was passed with five laps to go by race-winner Christopher Bell after he stayed out on track during the final caution flag and didn’t pit for fresh tires.
“I wish I would have done it the last eight laps,” Briscoe said. “I would have won the race. I knew he was almost a point out I thought I heard them say, so I knew down the backstretch he was probably about seven car lengths back from me I knew I was probably gonna get drove through, so I was watching my mirror and I saw how fast he was coming and I gripped the wheel because I thought this is gonna hurt pretty bad, and then luckily I saw him go to the wall. It was well-executed on his part. I think all of us have thought about that, just none of us have ever been brave enough to ever try it.”
Drivers have learned all season that the new Cup Series car is durable. Perhaps even too durable. Its rigidity has been a safety concern as multiple drivers have suffered concussions during crashes. And you can bet that they’re now wondering if riding the wall in the corners on the final lap at Phoenix next week is worth the effort.
“I’m very curious to see how this changes the complexion at the end of these short track races because you could for sure do it here,” Briscoe said. “It’s been proven. You could do it at Richmond probably. There are a couple other racetracks … There are a lot of racetracks we could probably do this now every time, so it’ll be interesting to see.”
Legislating against future moves like Chastain’s is easier said than done, however. How, exactly, can NASCAR prevent what Chastain did? And what’s the punishment?
The final lap at Martinsville and other tracks can’t devolve into drivers trying to do what Chastain did on Sunday. The greatness of his move is largely derived from its novelty. If numerous drivers start to do what Chastain did, then that greatness quickly wears off.
Given the speed advantage Chastain gained on the final lap on Sunday, it’s hard to see why drivers wouldn’t want to try what he did if they’re desperate.
And that puts NASCAR in a sticky situation. Its race officiating this season has been full of blunders. Just a few weeks ago NASCAR admitted that it didn’t see an intentional spin under caution right in front of its officials’ suite. Now it’s tasked with figuring out a way to prevent Chastain mimickers from turning his last-ditch effort into a normal occurrence. That’s an unenviable position.
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