Ross Chastain remains focal point after Martinsville move: ‘I still don’t know why it worked’

PHOENIX — Ross Chastain’s Martinsville miracle continues to make rounds on the Internet days after a Hail-Mary move vaulted him into the Championship 4.

Chastain’s decision to throttle up at Martinsville Speedway and ride the SAFER barrier at full speed through Turns 3 and 4 was still the talk of the NASCAR community Thursday at the Phoenix Convention Center where the four title contenders gathered for media day.

MORE: Why Chastain will win title | Phoenix schedule

An improbable — once thought impossible — move launched the No. 1 Chevrolet from ninth to fourth in the final set of corners. But the question lingered: Is that a move that could have any success at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race on Sunday afternoon? (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

“I don’t think it’s a move that can have any success at Martinsville,” Chastain laughed Thursday. “I still don’t know why it worked.”

The eighth-generation watermelon farmer’s move transcended the sport of stock-car racing, rocketing him up the leaderboard at the final moment to score enough points to advance to the Championship 4 for the first time in his career — and the first time for his team, Trackhouse Racing.

Why it proved successful is lost on Chastain, but the why doesn’t matter now.

“I look back at it. I look at the physics of it,” Chastain said of the move he perfected in “NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup” on the Nintendo GameCube. “I have people explain to me what happened and what I felt and why that car did not slow down, why it kept air in the tires. Why the suspension — the right-front suspension broke. The right-front upper control arm is broken. But I was able to get across the line before I really could feel it. And then down into Turn 1, I just kept it pinned on the wall because it was broken.

“So why it worked? I don’t know, but I have no ideas or plans to ever do that again because it was not pleasant.”

Whether another moment like that comes to fruition remains to be seen. But so rarely can something be seen for the first time in 74 years of stock-car racing at the sport’s premier level. From immense engagement on social media to gracing the top spot on “SportsCenter’s” top-10 plays, Chastain’s last-ditch effort has been seen everywhere.

“Ross should be really credited because only those unique things can really take you outside of your own bubble and your own world,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., a NASCAR Hall of Famer and analyst for NBC Sports. “And for a moment this week, we were in a lot of places we typically don’t exist. So that was incredible for us and hopefully there’s some momentum and ripple effects and that lasts for quite a while.”

While the move has received its praise, other drivers have voiced their hesitance surrounding the move in future scenarios.

Joey Logano, the 2018 champion, admitted “it was an awesome move to see.” But he cautioned whether a move so daring — where more could have gone wrong than went right — is a long-term positive.

“I don’t know if it’s the best for a few reasons,” Logano said. “One, it’s really, really risky — not only for the driver, but for the fans. There’s a lot of risks there. I don’t know if we should be willing to take that kind of risk. Two, I think the integrity of the sport’s a little bit interesting with this one because let’s be honest — like Ross did it. It’s awesome. Right? It takes big guts to do that. Like that takes a lot.

“But it’s also the move you make in the video game when you can’t get around the corner fast enough. Isn’t it? Like so? And what’s it look like when there’s 10 of us doing the same thing at the same time? And it happens race after race after race. Well, eh. It’s not that cool any more, is it, when you say like that, right? So I think yeah, it was awesome and made top-10 plays as it should. Like all that was really neat. I just don’t think it’s the greatest thing.”

Chase Elliott, the 2020 title winner and this year’s Regular Season Champion, lauded Chastain for taking the risk but echoed Logano’s sentiment regarding potential future wall rides.

“I think there’s a few factors to that in my opinion on it, but certainly commendable for a guy to do what he had to do to get the job done,” Elliott said. “I totally respect that, and I think that that deserves some respect. But from just a global landscape of our sport, when you kind of step back and look at it, I think it is a bit embarrassing, really, when you step back and look at it. It’s like cutting the track at a road course isn’t acceptable, either.

“NASCAR has put a lot of time and effort into making these cars equal, we’re suspending crew chiefs for weeks for pieces of vinyl being in the wrong place, you know, and then you go break the track record and run two seconds faster than everybody. You know, it’s just like from an integrity standpoint of what we do, is that proper? I don’t know, maybe not for me to say, but it certainly is interesting.”

While the legitimacy or future legality of the move remains in question, one thing for sure was the fever pitch surrounding the move. Trackhouse co-owner Pitbull reached out to Chastain to talk about it, but he was one of many. Chastain said he received over 1,000 text messages in the wake of Sunday’s daredevil antics.

“There wasn’t much common sense in this,” Chastain admitted. “And I think the difference in it being — Travis Pastrana said the difference between stupidity and brilliance is success. And this one is brilliant because we succeeded. Now why it worked? I don’t know.”

Chastain also remained adamant this was not a decision he ever practiced in the simulator. At the white flag, Chastain was notified he needed to pass two cars in order to transfer. The idea sparked in his mind, and after confirming he heard them correctly, planted the throttle pedal and sped through the corner some 60 mph faster than his competitors.

“There was a lot of luck involved. I’m not going to shy away from that,” Chastain said. “But I did have it — like from the time we took the white flag, I had it in my mind like you cannot leave the wall. Once I’m on the backstretch, I have to follow it. And it actually has more of a kick out and like a pocket, I’ll call it, in the [Turn] 3 than I even thought.

“And I thought when I hit the wall, I hit it pretty hard on entry, which surprised me. I thought I could just kind of lay into it. And then when I walked the track on the way out that night I realized, kind of like Darlington Turn 3, … the wall goes away six or eight inches that I had never noticed before.”

That’s because no one had ever run the wall like Chastain did before Sunday at Martinsville.

Now, he faces Logano, Elliott and Christopher Bell in a battle for the NASCAR Cup Series championship this weekend at Phoenix Raceway.