Part inspiration, part madness: If you haven’t seen it yet, Ross Chastain did not take off, did not even take off brake for Turn 3 on the final lap of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville, but instead kept his throttle foot nailed to the boards and actually changed to fifth gear – traditionally never used on NASCAR’s tightest track.
Chastain intentionally drove into the SAFER barrier to get through the turn as quickly as possible, making it into this weekend’s Championship Final Four in Phoenix. In fact, it forced Cole Trickle to go low instead of high to get around Russ Wheeler Days of thunder look pretty lame.
The real highlight of Chastain’s move was his total commitment, inspired by a video game he played with his brother on the Nintendo GameCube in 2005. Yes, he was helped by the strength of the NASCAR Next Gen car – all wheels were still pointing in the right direction at the finish line when previous bodies were likely crumpled – but the speed bump he needed to get those five places was significant.
It’s one thing to think about doing it, and quite another to do it successfully. To appreciate his complete insanity, here’s the on-board (you can hear him kick into high gear just before impact):
And here’s a moment captured by Chastain fan Caleb Matthews in the stands that gives the full panorama of the drama:
Physics of motion
Data from Chastain’s battered, but not bent, car was reported to show that the top speed was up to 50 mph higher than a normal lap – he bounced off the wall for a full four seconds – and his momentum was such that he all still had the excess speed to ram into the back Brad Keselowski to the finish line.
Chastain’s final lap of 18.845 seconds was faster than Kyle Larsonwinning time and also eclipsed the previous track record Joey Logano, installed in March 2014, at 18,898 p. The fastest lap of the race up to that point was 20.508s set by Kyle Larson on lap 7 of the 500.
The next discovery was made by Mike Wheeler 23XI Racing pageant director who figured Chastain was pulling about 5g banging around the wall and showed off his work in this tweet:
Opinions of the drivers were divided after that. Most even Kevin Harvick – who tends to keep his praise to himself – was impressed that Chastain went ahead and made the move:
But others, in particular Larson – who tried to pass a similar maneuver Denny Hamlin at the Darlington 500 South in 2021 – called it “embarrassing” and, in truth, now admits he regretted not attempting the move.
Logano added, “Now the box is open, right? This wall skating will be a spectacle. This is not good.
“I mean it was great, it was cool. It’s the first time it’s happened, there’s no rule against it.”
Ross Chastain, TrackHouse Racing, Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro
Photo: Nigel Kinreid / NKP / Images of motor sports
What’s on his mind?
Best to let Chastain explain it himself: “I never thought about that. Our preparation this week, it never crossed my mind. This week I did a lot of simulator work, a lot of everything, virtual laps. It never occurred to me to try. I want to make this clear.
“The last time would be long before I even thought about being a NASCAR driver. It flashed in my head on a white flag and I double-checked [Turn] 2. Like, after 1 and 2, I thought, “I think we need two seats.” They said, “Yes.” If it collapses, well, we won’t make it. It might not work, but I’ll try.
“I didn’t know how it would turn out. I didn’t know if the physics would work to do it around the corner, but it did.”
Was it instinct? Was it blind panic? What did you feel? What questions did he ask himself in the car?
“My brain couldn’t figure it out, my bandwidth was shot as I entered Turn 3 and I grabbed fifth gear,” he said. “Everything is blurred. I couldn’t understand it.
“But, yes, I doubted it. When I grabbed the fifth one, I said, “Well, it’s going now.” My leg stayed down. I committed to the wall early. It didn’t slow down, so it worked.”
Ross Chastain, TrackHouse Racing, Moose Fraternity Chevrolet Camaro runs into the wall to go around Turn 4 to pass Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, FedEx Freight Direct Toyota Camry
Photo: Leslie Ann Miller / Images of motor sports
So what’s next?
One thing is for sure, NASCAR will not ignore it. As Logano rightly says, with Pandora’s box open, drivers and crew chiefs will be checking tracks where it could happen again, starting with this weekend’s finale in Phoenix.
It’s one thing to do it at the shortest and slowest track (excluding the LA Coliseum preseason event) on the NASCAR Cup schedule, so should to be less effective on faster tracks, although Larson proved effective at Darlington. But imagine a Championship 4 driver doing a similar trick at Turn 2 – the final braking zone – on the final lap at Phoenix to win the title?
Trust me, the physics engine of the Cup Series teams’ racing simulators at the base will be working overtime this week – but do all SAFER walls react the same way? On the new record lap, Chastain won by almost two seconds in third place Ryan Blaney in Martinsville.
I tasked our resident racing simulator, Nick DeGroot, with first recreating Chastain’s run at Martinsville on Monday, in which he managed to hit 18.828s on his fifth attempt, and then asked him to try to do the same in Phoenix…
He reported, “It’s not as clear and harder to do because of the way the wall juts out, but it’s possible … A gain of a few tenths, maybe half a second, if done right.”
And what about security? The only thing on Chastain’s mind as she drove to Martinsville was that the gate might fall down – Mike Harmon and Michael Waltrip both survived two of the worst crashes in Bristol when it happened in real crashes.
“Halfway around the corner I saw [the gate], and I didn’t think about it,” he admitted. “I actually saw it when I was in the middle of the corner, but it was too late. Testament to the wall.”
Will the SAFER walls hold up to the repeated abuse as everyone tries to get those seats on the last lap? And who will foot the bill for track damage if that happens?
Even though I say “NASCAR won’t ignore it” that doesn’t necessarily mean they will do anything about it! Doing nothing would certainly risk playing out some potentially farcical situations, but… It’s actually a pretty complicated rule to think about – how would you word what is essentially a “deliberate barrier charge”?
I guess you could put a time limit on the fence friction, sort of like they do with the closed tandem draft at superspeedways in some series? Maybe the best course of action would be to just be objective and call it an illegal “offensive charge” like in basketball?
Or think of it as the change to the rule for driving below the yellow line on a superspeedway – you can’t pass someone when you’re running into the wall on the last lap unless you’re pushed to do so… You believe we have a limit debate tracks about an oval track lined with a wall?!?
Still, Chastain’s clip was replayed all over American sports news and around the world on social media, building anticipation for this weekend’s showdown in Arizona. Heck, even two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso tweeted that it was “2022’s best thing in motor racing!”
All the buzz the night before was Ty Gibbs knocking Brandon Jones out of the Xfinity Series playoffs on the last lap. NASCAR is as much a show as it is a sport, with perhaps more emphasis on the former than any other form of elite motorsports, and has chosen to turn a blind eye to it.
It may just become a normal aspect of the “overtime” hazard…