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October 30, 2022

Ross Chastain clinches Championship 4 berth at buzzer with video-game move

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Ross Chastain picked Lap 500 to turn the NASCAR Cup Series’ fastest lap in the history of Martinsville Speedway. And true to the form of Trackhouse Racing’s reputation as disruptors in its brief existence, this latest master stroke from the journeyman driver came through unconventional means with some of the highest stakes possible riding on it.

It was straight video-game stuff that decided the final spot in the Championship 4 field for Chastain, who leaped from 10th to fifth place in a wall-riding dash through Turns 3 and 4 at the end of Sunday’s Xfinity 500. The holiest of Hail Marys pushed Chastain from a one-point deficit to a four-point edge over Denny Hamlin for the last title-eligible berth in next Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

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The move had his fellow competitors shaking their heads — some in wonderment and others in disagreement — and a packed house at the historic track rising with a disbelieving cheer of approval. For Chastain, he was still trying to wrap his own head around how a maneuver his brother, Chad, had used on him in a NASCAR game from 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube had somehow worked in real life.

“I never thought about it. Our prep this week, it never crosses my mind,” said Chastain, who ended up fifth after clocking a 100.483-mph lap with his full-send move. “I’ve done a lot of sim work this week, a lot of iRacing, a lot of stuff, laps here virtually. Never once did it cross my mind or ever try it. I want to make that clear. The last time would have been a long time ago before I was even thinking about being a NASCAR driver …”

“I thought, why not? That’s a motto that some buddies and I have back home. We live by ‘why not?’ To apply that to the Cup Series in this scenario, there are rules. There are a lot of rules out here.

I didn’t know how it would all work out. I didn’t know if the physics would work to make it around the corner, but it did. I’m sure glad it did.”

Chastain will now race for his first championship next Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM), facing off against Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Martinsville race winner Christopher Bell. The whirlwind turn of events comes in just his first year with the Trackhouse Racing bunch, which debuted just last season as a one-car effort.

Justin Marks, who signed on Pitbull as a co-owner when the team launched, said he was going to break down barriers in the stock-car world. Perhaps this was an interpretation of what he meant. Fortunately, the outside retaining wall and Turn 4 crossover gate held.

“I’m shaking right now. I think it just goes to show you that Ross is special, he’s different, and sometimes there are unwritten rules that he finds ways to write them,” Marks said after a frantic post-race celebration. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It’s unbelievable. I’m so proud of him. So proud of this Trackhouse team. The 1 car, the 99, I’m in shock, and it’s good shock.”

Count team president Ty Norris among those stunned.

“Best move I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and not just because it was us,” said Norris, a longtime industry vet. “You see all these fans, they were ripping the bleachers out. That was unbelievable. I’m glad that the gate was nice and secured over there in Turn 4 because he didn’t need to hook anything right there because he was not coming off the gas. That was pretty unbelievable.”

Chastain did not lift, and the force of his No. 1 Chevy scraping against the wall almost looked like a fast-forward playback at 1.5x speed. But the momentum carried him one by one past Chase Briscoe, Bubba Wallace, Logano, William Byron and finally just a nose ahead of Hamlin – his rival at various points this season and the driver who had the upper hand in the playoff battle for much of the day. Chastain limped the scuffed and battered car – a control arm broken and brakes gone – back to pit road and pumped his fist as the crowd cheered.

A handful of Chastain’s peers questioned the integrity of the move. Others just tipped their cap to a move that only seemed possible or a digital race track or through the magic of cinematography.

“We all did it as kids. We all did it in the video game. That’s how you made speed in the video game, that’s what you did,” said Logano, who clinched his title shot by winning the Round of 8 opener at Las Vegas. “Something we all thought about at one point. At least I thought about it a lot, but never really had the need to do it. Also kind of thought of how many races I could have won here by doing that.

“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right? 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. 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.”

Whether it becomes a last-lap version of a 60-plus-yard field goal or a desperation half-court shot or a soon-to-be-regulated one-off, Chastain can lay claim to being the first – etching in a signature moment to Martinsville’s 75th-anniversary season and earning kudos from other crews who marveled at the achievement.

“Whether they were congratulating me for the wildness of it or they were genuinely happy, I’m not sure,” Chastain said. “I’m going to take it that I had more people make it a point to walk out of their pit boxes to physically acknowledge me. That means as much to me as anything.

“This garage, you know what, the word was used earlier, ‘circus.’ We are a traveling circus. I’m proud to be in this circus. I’m proud of my brothers and sisters that I go to battle with. They might get mad at me. Some of the stuff I talked about earlier in the year, it’s been wild to race against my heroes. They’re left, right, forward, back. The craziest thing is when they’ve been mad at me. I’ve had crew members be mad at me this year. That’s the most humbling experience that I’ve ever experienced.

“So having more acknowledgment or more smiles my way, whether it was because it was crazy or not, I don’t really care. I’m going to take it. I don’t get many from the garage. Just them acknowledging that, whether it was good or bad on their end, they acknowledged, they smiled, gave me a thumbs-up and I’ll take it.”