Ross Chastain’s shocking last-lap move at Martinsville Speedway left his peers complimenting his ingenuity but wondering if a Pandora’s box had been opened.
The Trackhouse Racing driver went full throttle into Turn 3 and rode the outside wall to the finish, picking up five spots in the process. It was what Chastain needed to do to advance in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, as Denny Hamlin was running well ahead of him.
The kamikaze move paid off. The No. 1 car finished fourth (after Brad Keselowski’s car was disqualified) and took the final transfer spot over Hamlin. Chastain will race for his first championship next weekend in Phoenix.
Reigning series champion Kyle Larson tried a similar wall move a year ago at Darlington Raceway while trying to beat Hamlin in the Southern 500. It didn’t work out for Larson, and he was left wondering if he inspired Chastain.
“Yeah, and I’m a bit embarrassed that I did, but that was pretty embarrassing, honestly,” said Larson, who finished second. “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’s pretty embarrassing.”
Ryan Blaney, who finished third, said he should have done the same thing. But Blaney said he didn’t care if it was good or bad for the sport and would let others decide.
“I guess we’ll all start doing it now coming down to the end of the race,” he said.
As the driver who lost the most by Chastain’s move, Hamlin said it’s all part of the rules. Chastain, said Hamlin, found a way to race within the same walls as everyone else, but in a better way.
“It’s funny but not for me,” said Hamlin.
The move was compared to that of a video game, which Joey Logano said everyone has tried. It is something every driver has thought about in real life.
“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open,” said Logano after his sixth-place finish. “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.
“It was awesome; it was cool,” the Penske driver continued. “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.”
Logano does hope it lands on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays, though. And when Logano next sees Chastain, he’ll ask how his head feels.
Chase Briscoe was the first driver that Chastain flew passed on the last lap. Briscoe braced for impact because he thought he was going to be run into, but was left lamenting he should have done the same thing over the final laps and he might have won the race.
“It was well-executed on his part,” said Briscoe, who finished ninth. “I think all of us have thought about that, just none of us have ever been brave enough to ever try it. I’m very curious to see what kind of hole that opens up because I think now, if it’s the last lap at Martinsville and maybe even Richmond, just go wide-open on the wall. I think you’ll see the whole field do it.
“It’s that big of an advantage, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens now because now that we all know it’s that big of an advantage, at the end, if you’re running second or third even, you’re going to do that because you’re going to win the race. I’m curious to see what plays out after that.”
NASCAR said Chastain’s move was within the bounds of the rulebook, but they will address questions and concerns from drivers this week.