Chastain On Dramtic Move: ‘Everything Went Blurry’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 31 2022

Ross Chastain slides along the wall on his way to the Championship 4 on Sunday at Martinsville. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – In football it’s called a Hail Mary. In stock car racing there’s no name for it yet, but Ross Chastain executed the equivalent of it with perfection at Martinsville Speedway in the Xfinity 500 to punch his ticket into this weekend’s Championship Four at Phoenix Raceway.

Chastain’s split-second decision and video game move will occupy a place in stock car racing history. It’s one of those events that fans will forever tell friends and family they were there, they saw it live, they saw something that had never been done in NASCAR. 

After the race Chastain admitted he didn’t know if physics would allow the maneuver to work, but he was glad it did.  

The fact Sunday’s race would determine the Championship Four set the stage for such an out-of-the-box move. Entering the race Joey Logano was the only driver who had solidified a berth in the title run, having won at Las Vegas in early October. Now, there were seven drivers seeking three positions. With the 500-lap race winding down, regular season champion Chase Elliott had earned a position via points. Christopher Bell was headed for the victory that would advance him. That left the last position to be settled between Denny Hamlin and Chastain, two drivers with a rivalry.

Throughout the race Hamlin’s Toyota out-performed Chastain’s Chevrolet. Hamlin won the first two stages while Chastain finished ninth in both. Hamlin led once for 203 laps. Chastain never led. If the two tied in points, Chastain advanced on the tiebreaker. However, with the laps winding down, Hamlin was moving through the field while Chastain was mired in 10th. The Florida native knew he needed to gain a minimum of two positions.

“It was fight or flight because we were out,” Chastain said.  

Exiting turn two on the final lap, Chastain quickly assessed the situation. A video game with his brother Chad on the GameCube 2005 console flashed through his mind. He thought of the way his brother defeated him and his “Why Not?” motto took over. After all, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

Chastain grabbed fifth gear on his Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet, slammed the accelerator to the floor and headed for the turn three wall. When the car slammed into the third-turn wall, Chastain immediately released the steering wheel, kept the accelerator to the floor and shot from 10th to fifth on that final half lap and into the playoffs final round. At the checkered flag, he slammed into the rear of an unsuspecting Brad Keselowski and edged past Hamlin. His Chevrolet had no brakes, and the right-side upper control arm was broken.

“My brain could not comprehend, my bandwidth was shot when I entered turn three and I grabbed fifth gear,” Chastain said. “Everything went blurry. I couldn’t comprehend it. I committed to the wall early. It didn’t slow down, so it worked.”

Chastain’s astonishing maneuver sent the crowd into a cheering frenzy, reaped congratulations from fellow competitors and left team owner Justin Marks and gasman Brook Davenport hugging each other. Chastain saw the two men’s actions on the big screen in the track’s infield so “I thought that must be a good sign.” 

 Hamlin wasn’t looking in his mirror and had no idea Chastain’s Chevrolet was speeding towards the finish line against the wall. Neither did Keselowski.

“It was well executed,” Hamlin said about Chastain’s move. “You’ve got to race inside these walls, and he found a way to do it better than us on the last lap.” 

The 29-year-old Chastain’s actions deprived the 41-year-old Hamlin of his fourth consecutive shot at the Cup championship. In 17 fulltime seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin has yet to claim a title. 

“I absolutely hate the result, but I loved our performance,” Hamlin said. “We performed at a top-notch championship level, except when we went on pit road and lost control of the lead and then lost 10 spots in the last three stops. You just can’t do that in this sport. The one thing that really hurt us this year and kept us from having five, six wins in the regular season is the same thing that bit us today. That’s our fault. We just needed to maintain, and we didn’t.”

In Chastain’s first year with Trackhouse, his road to his inaugural Championship Four has at times been a rocky one.

“I needed time,” Chastain said about his career. “Those team owners through Trucks, Xfinity and Cup that gave me the time, I owe so much to.  

“If you go back two calendar years, I was the guy five laps down, seven laps down, something like that. Those moments and those nights and those races, those laps, are a big reason why I feel like I’m able to do what I can do now.” 

The season finale at Phoenix Raceway is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m., ET, on NBC.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 31 2022
No Comment

Comments are closed.