Ross Chastain made a go-for-broke last-lap move at Martinsville Speedway that paid off to advance him into the Championship 4 with a shot at the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
And Chastain is just as dumbfounded as everyone else.
“You think they have questions?” Chastain cracked to the moderator about the media at his post-race press conference. “I have questions.”
Chastain passed five cars while riding the outside wall in the final two corners and run to the checkered flag. The most important car was Denny Hamlin’s, whom he was racing for the final transfer spot on the Cup Series playoff grid.
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Knowing he needed the spots, Chastain committed down the backstretch to make a move no one saw coming. Chastain went full throttle into Turns 3 and 4, hit the wall, and then stayed in the throttle as he rode against the wall to the finish line.
“I think the first time I ever saw a race car do that was on the Gamecube 2005 console,” Chastain said. “I don’t know if anybody else had those, but we did and my brother Chad beat me doing it at the [fake] Dodge Raceway somewhere in a fake city or somewhere in Florida, and we’d always race there.
“I never thought about it. Our prep this week, it never crossed my mind. I’ve done a lot of sim work this week, a lot of iRacing, a lot of stuff, and a lot of laps here virtually, and never once did it cross my mind or did I try it. The last time would have been a long time ago, before I was ever even thinking about being a NASCAR driver.
“It flashed back in my head at the white flag and through (Turns) 1 and 2, I thought, I think we need two spots. They said yes and I was like, if it wrecks, OK, we don’t make it. But it might work, so I’ll try it.”
Chastain figured, why not? It is, after all, a motto everyone back home lives by.
“I didn’t know how it would all work out,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if the physics would work to make it around the corner. But it did, and I’m sure glad it did.”
Trackhouse Racing and Chastain’s No. 1 team went berserk watching the move and realizing they were into the next round. There were screams, jumping up and down and hugs. After Chastain climbed from his car, he was surrounded by the team and many other spectators. Chastain was lifted onto the shoulder of one team member as everyone tried to process what had happened.
“I didn’t even know anything like that was possible and I think it’s just a testament to how competitive Ross Chastain’s mindset is and the fact that there are no rules in that kid’s world,” team owner Justin Marks said. “We were out at the white (flag). We were out, and he made a decision.
“I have no idea how long he’d been thinking about that. I don’t know if it was five laps or five months. I have no idea how long he’d been thinking about it but to make the commitment to do something like that is absolutely shocking. It’s incredible. I’m so proud to have somebody n this race car that will do whatever it takes for this company.”
Chastain admitted it was a fight-or-flight moment since he was going to be out of the championship hunt. He and Hamlin had waged war off the final restart with 24 laps to go, but Chastain stalled in 12th place for a bit while Hamlin marched forward.
Hamlin made it to fifth and Chastain was 10th when he entered Turn 3 and went for the move — one that wasn’t guaranteed to work and he had just seconds to commit to trying.
“I knew that it should work, but my brain could not comprehend — my bandwidth was shot when I entered Turn 3 and I grabbed fifth gear and everything went blurry,” Chastain said. “I couldn’t comprehend it, so I had to ask. And I saw Justin and Brook, our gas man, grabbing each and celebrating on the big screen in the infield, and I thought that must be a good sign.
“Yeah, I questioned it when I grabbed fifth [gear]. Like, it’s going now. My foot stayed down, I committed to the wall early and it didn’t slow down. It worked.”