Column: Chastain hits the wall in a race for the NASCAR title

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Ross Chastain views cars during training for the NASCAR car race at Martinsville Speedway, Saturday, October 29, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia (AP Photo / Chuck Burton)

AP

There was an internal battle inside Ross Chastain as he crashed into the NASCAR Championship Final.

He is an eighth generation watermelon farmer from Florida who was never meant to climb to the top level of motor racing.

But he did, and it required Chastain to make his way through the traffic from the journeyman driver to the top cup team with the winning cars. Along the way, he built a solid list of rivals critical of his aggressive style, and as it became clear that Chastain might indeed have a chance to race for the Cup title, he began to wonder if his rivals were right about him.

Was he making too many mistakes? Try too hard? Did he need a different approach?

It doesn’t matter now.

With a spot in the NASCAR Championship finals in sight, if Chastain somehow managed to do a miracle, he went videogame style and took a wall ride he tried as a kid playing NASCAR 2005 on his Nintendo GameCube.

Two points behind Denny Hamlin for the final transfer spot for next week’s race, Chastain was too far behind to make up for the losses. So he put his Chevrolet into fifth gear in the rear extension, deliberately hit the wall of the Martinsville racetrack, then took his hands off the steering wheel.

Chastain allowed the wall to lead number 1 the last quarter mile around the short Virginia route, keeping his foot flat on the gas. He went from 10th to 5th when the breathtaking traffic threw his Chevy around the cars and made it to the final four.

“This is the best thing about car racing in 2022!” Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso tweeted on Monday. “We’ve all done this in video games with damage-disabled. I never thought it could become reality. “

The move saw Chastain finish fourth in the championship for the first time in his career, in his second season of full-time cup racing with a rival team. It also gave second team Trackhouse Racing their first chance for the title.

Chastain said he was beaten up by his brother in the video game on “Dodge Raceway somewhere in a fake town somewhere in Florida,” but he had never tried it in real life.

In fact, he repeatedly insisted that he hadn’t even thought of riding a wall until his season was already half a lap left.

“It never occurred to me, nor had I ever tried it. I want to explain it. The last time would be a long time ago, before I even thought of being a NASCAR driver, Chastain said. “A white flag flashed in my head.”

Chastain is now celebrated in all motorsport circles: the same driver who was turned into a verb this season when Kyle Busch said “I got Chastained” following an incident on the track.

It was the fastest lap a stock car ever made in Martinsville, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The track record was 18.954 seconds. Chastain’s final lap was 18,845 seconds, and he was going 50 to 70 mph faster than the cars he was passing when the wall was driving him.

NASCAR said the Chastain movement was legal.

Its competitors aren’t sure if it should stay that way.

Hamlin Crew Chief Chris Gabehart commented: “The tracks are not built with this in mind from a safety standpoint. Someone may be hurt … OUTSIDE the rails. ”

Kyle Larson tried a similar move last year at Darlington Raceway and has since regretted never having set an example.

“It’s just a bad look. I’m ashamed I did it in Darlington, ”said Larson. “Maybe if I hadn’t done it last year, people wouldn’t even have thought about it, so I’m ashamed myself and glad I didn’t win (Darlington) like this.”

It’s not that the drivers didn’t like the move – Chase Briscoe even tried it in a video game later on Sunday night and complained when it didn’t work in his mind – and Kevin Harvick noted that Chastain would not have been successful had it not been for NASCAR’s new , the rugged Next Gen car. He also predicted that NASCAR might ban such movements.

“My guess is that this will be the only time you will see it. But making rules is always a feather in the cap! ” Harvick wrote on Twitter.

Joey Logano even called on NASCAR to act ahead of the final this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, where the Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series championships will be decided. NASCAR is already shrouded in Xfinity Series controversy after Ty Gibbs smashed teammate Brandon Jones to win Saturday in Martinsville and kick Jones out of the playoffs.

“No matter how spectacular it was that it worked, the problem is that the box is open, right?” Logano said. “Now every Xfinity race, every truck race, every cup race, no matter the track, this wall driving experience will be fun. This is not good. This is not good.

“I mean, it was amazing, it was fun. It was the first time it had happened. There is no prohibition. There has to be a rule against this as I don’t know if you want the entire field sliding along the wall to come close to the checkered flag.

Chastain, now a famous name in the racing world, wasn’t sure what NASCAR could do with his experiment. He only knows that next Sunday he will be racing Logano, Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott for the cup championship.

“I am proud to be in this circus. I am proud of my brothers and sisters with whom I go to battle. They can get angry with me. It was wild to race my heroes, said Chastain. “The craziest thing is that they were pissed at me. This year, the crew members were furious with me. This is the most humiliating experience I have ever experienced.

“So having more appreciation or more smiles your way, whether it’s because it was crazy or not, I don’t really care. I’ll take it. I don’t get much from the garage. They just admitted that whether it was right or wrong on their part, they admitted, smiled, gave me the thumbs up and I’ll take it.

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AP car racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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