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Heading into the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Sunday, Ross Chastain knew that the only way he’d have a shot at racing for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in Phoenix the following week was if he finished ahead of Denny Hamlin, but knowing is only half the battle.
Watching his dreams of glory slip away in the final stretch of the final lap – he entered the final lap in 10th place, five slots behind Hamlin – Chastain channeled his inner Ricky Bobby and dialed up a cheat code for afterburners that turned his Chevy Camaro into a turbo-charged Mario Kart as he blitzed around the wall to overtake Hamlin in literally the track’s final feet. By hugging the wall with the throttle wide open, Chastain took advantage of his natural inertia to rocket him around the curvature of the wall, generating a noticeable boost in speed as he surged from the 10th place to the fifth to earn the final coveted spot in Phoenix. According to NBC Sports' Dustin Long, Chastain’s breakneck speed in the final lap clocked in at 18.845 seconds – the fastest lap ever at Martinsville Speedway – while the next fastest came from Kyle Larson with a time of 20.508 seconds.
"It was a video game move off of the Turn 3,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted on the call. “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!”
Even Chastain was shocked that his bold move actually paid off.
"[I] played a lot of NASCAR 05 on the GameCube with [my brother] Chad growing, up and you can get away with it," Chastain said, according to Yahoo News. "And I never knew if it would actually work. I did that when I was 8 years old."
Though many have praised Chastain for his gutsy maneuver, including his rival Hamlin who Chastain eliminated with the "brilliant" and "well-executed" move, several big name stars didn't shy away from chastising Chastain.
“It’s just a bad look,” Larson said, according to NBC Sports. “I’m embarrassed that I did it at Darlington. Maybe if I didn’t do it last year, people wouldn’t even think to do that, so I’m embarrassed myself and glad that I didn’t win that way [at Darlington)]. It’s not just a good look. Not a good look. … It’s embarrassing.”
Despite appreciating the spectacle of Chastain’s late-race move, Joey Logano didn’t mince his words either as he seemed to side mostly with Larson.
“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right?” Logano asked rhetorically. “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,” continued Logano. “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 wish that I would have done it now,” revealed Chase Briscoe when asked of Chastain’s move. “It’s like a 50-50 deal. Any of us could’ve done it, but is it fair to the [five] guys he passed? Probably not. But all [five] of us could have done the same thing.”
Despite both praise or criticism, the Watermelon Man’s doing his best to tune out the noise and enjoy the spotlight of the moment because, come Championship race day in Phoenix, the competition will be fierce.
“It’s sinking in the we did something that no one else has ever done,” Chastain said.
Can't get enough NASCAR action? Watch “Race For The Championship,” which follows the lives of NASCAR's biggest stars on and off the track, Thursdays at 10/9c on USA Network. And you can catch up on the series now on Peacock.
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