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One Year Later, Ross Chastain Reminisces about Infamous Wall Maneuver at Martinsville

NASCAR may have outlawed the video game-style move dubbed the "Hail Melon," but its significance will never be lost on Trackhouse Racing’s fearless driver of the No. 1 Chevy.   

By Andrew Woodin
Ross Chastain entering his racing car

While some of the more brazen wheelmen of NASCAR’s top flight have attempted the bonkers maneuver of using an outside wall to slingshot them around the track, success is hard to come by. 

Carl Edwards made a valiant attempt in 2008 at Kansas, but Jimmie Johnson narrowly managed to block the dive-bombing speedster, saying after the race, “Where did he come from? He went by me so fast!” In 2021 at Darlington, Mr. I-can-drive-anything Kyle Larson turned his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro into a rim-riding rocket ship, but Denny Hamlin held off Yung Money’s sparks-flinging launch to take the checkered flag. Then, in 2022, Ross Chastain took on the race gods with a fervor the Cup Series hadn’t seen since Dale Earnhardt, ensuring that the third time would be the charm.

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Sitting in 10th position, in the final lap of the race at Martinsville Speedway on October 30 of last year, Chastain had just nosed past Chase Elliott, but he was still too far back from the rest of the pack to be a real threat. So, he dropped the hammer and steered his Next Gen car into the wall, leaving the throttle in fifth gear wide open. The curvature of the wall helped whip the Watermelon Man around the last turn at 50 mph above normal speed, allowing him to pass a dumbfounded Hamlin in 5th position to qualify for the Championship 4 battle in Phoenix.

The move was enshrined in NASCAR history as the "Hail Melon." An overjoyed Dale Earnhardt Jr. could not believe what he was seeing as he made the call for NBC, shouting, “It was a video game move off into Turn 3. He put the car against the wall wide open all the way around Turn 3 and 4... I have never seen anything like that before in my life!”

Ross Chastain seen during a racde

“You made the transfer — you made the transfer, man!” hollered Chastain’s crew chief Phil Surgen while the rest of the ecstatic Trackhouse Team threw their hands up in a jubilant celebration.  

But in this year's playoffs, his second full-time year with Pitbull’s Trackhouse Racing, Chastain pumped the brakes too soon and failed to advance to the Round of 8. Along with his solo win of the season, Chastain pocketed only nine top-five finishes in 2023 compared to his two victories and 15 top-five finishes in 2022. As a lightning rod for criticism, he’s thrown haymakers with former Cup Series rookie Noah Gragson, and he’s had on-track skirmishes with Larson, Chase Elliott and Hamlin, to name a few. He even drew the ire of Hendrick Motorsports boss Rick Hendrick.

That said, he’ll always have the "Hail Melon," a sensational mix of guts and skill that vaulted him into the territory of being a living legend, though NASCAR has since outlawed the eye-popping maneuver. Now, as the Cup Series returns this Sunday to the 0.526-mile oval that Chastain single-handedly transformed into a real-life video game, the Watermelon Man is reflecting on the audacious move that made him a beloved hero.

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“There must have been 10 million people at that track because I swear I’ve had that many tell me that they were there that day,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “It’s so cool.”

“Seeing the fans’ cell phone video from the grandstands from different angles, and then hearing the crowd, it was wild,” Chastain continued. “You can hear people asking each other what happened. Some are saying, ‘I missed it. What happened?’ Seeing just those grainy, shaky videos was probably the coolest part.”

“And then hearing my family, my friends and where they were. My Uncle Richie had walked out of the room when we took the white flag, because he thought we were done. And he came running back in when my cousins went to screaming. It’s cool to hear those stories.”

Chastain’s not the only one taking a trip down memory lane.

RELATED: NASCAR’s Bad Boy Ross Chastain Admits He "Overstepped the Line" At Darlington

“It was crazy,” Larson said to NBC Sports. “It’s wild when you look at the data. [Chastain] legit clicked a gear — and you never run fifth gear at Martinsville — he went to fifth and held it wide open around the wall. That part is crazy and takes balls and imagination, too, for sure.”

“It was a massive blur,” remembered 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace. “Something just whizzed right by me, and I was like, ‘What is that?’ I was the middle of 3 and 4, and I finally have seen that it’s Ross, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ That was pretty impressive. Pretty smart move.”

“Yeah, it was insane,” corroborated William Byron. “Props to him. It was a super brilliant move that he made there. I think a lot of people didn’t know how to feel about it. But for me personally, it was just a big brain move.”

Ross Chastain riding the wall during the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500

“I was just never, I guess, gutsy enough to make the move,” admitted Kyle Busch. “But then I saw it be done by Ross to get himself those positions and get him into the final round, the championship race at Phoenix. And I’m like, ‘Damn it!’ I wish I took that moment, but I didn’t, and so he owns it. It was cool for what it was and what it accomplished and what it got him.... He put it all out there on the line and made something of it.”

While some are heaping high praise on Chastain now, there’ve been plenty of shots fired at No. 1 during his NASCAR tenure. After several on-track run-ins, Cup Series drivers made a new addition to the NASCAR lexicon: “Chastained,” meaning to fall victim to the Watermelon Man’s unflinchingly aggressive driving style.

But he’s locked into a long-term contract with Trackhouse Racing and, after Kevin Harvick officially retires at the end of the postseason, the Watermelon Man will take over as the face of mega sponsor Anheuser-Busch. The memories are fun, but the future is where Chastain’s eyes have shifted to, and he’s not letting off the gas one bit.

“I have more opportunities in front of me than I dreamed about just a few years ago and have surrounded myself with a team — at the track and away — to take advantage of them,” Chastain told The Athletic.

To commemorate his return to where it all went down, Chastain, who was gifted part of the section of the Martinsville wall he rode to victory, will sport a special helmet to celebrate his iconic victory.

“If this is your introduction,” says Chastain, “Hang on tight.”