Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Martinsville: You Don’t Know It Yet, But Ross Chastain’s Move Is Timeless

What happened?

Christopher Bell scored another walk-off victory while in a must-win situation at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 30 to lock himself into the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4. Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski finished second through fourth. However, the big story of the day belongs to fifth-place finisher Ross Chastain, who successfully pulled off a “video game” move to point himself into the playoff’s final round. Keselowski was later disqualified in post-race tech, and Denny Hamlin was promoted to fifth place as a result.

In the end, Hamlin joined Blaney, Chase Briscoe and William Byron in being eliminated from the playoffs in the year’s penultimate event.

Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Bell and Chastain will all race for a championship next weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

How did it happen?

Track position was the name of the game on Sunday, and the No. 20 Toyota was playing it better than anyone else.

Through pit stop magic, Bell inherited the lead on lap 324 and with it a hope to make the final round of the playoffs. Passing had been difficult for much of the event, so it was going to take some key pit strategy to overtake Bell or anyone else in order to steal the lead.

That’s exactly what playoff contender Briscoe had in mind.

When the final caution waved on lap 468, the rest of the field pitted while Briscoe and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer stayed out. To make matters worse for Bell, Keselowski, Byron and Kyle Larson all left pit road before he did, meaning the JGR Toyota would restart sixth.

Over the course of almost 30 laps, Briscoe tried desperately to lengthen his lead over the rest of the field by holding off challengers like Keselowski. For a moment, it looked as though Briscoe was going to shock the NASCAR world and win his way into the Championship 4 by staying off pit road.

Then came along Bell.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Christopher Bell's Fresh Tires Beat Martinsville Clock

With four laps to go, the No. 20 finally caught the tail end of Briscoe and was able to pass the SHR Ford easily, stealing championship glory from the Hoosier.

Bell cruised on for an easy third victory of 2022 and gain an entry into the final playoff round at Phoenix Raceway.

Who stood out?

Bell earned a heroic walk-off win that saw him save the year’s efforts of his team and is now in the Championship 4. He deserves kudos for back-to-back performances when facing playoff elimination.

But that’s not what everyone is talking about.

Instead, the spotlight is on that crazy Floridian watermelon farmer that finished fifth.

In the final green flag run, all eyes were following the efforts of both Hamlin and Chastain. Both drivers were trading positions and picking up any spots they possibly could to garner points and stay above the playoff cut line.

The final 30 or so laps saw the two rivals swap the final playoff transfer spot numerous times as they zigged and zagged their way through the field. However, when the sun was setting near the end of the 500-lap event, Hamlin had the clear edge.

Passing had been difficult for most of the race, yet Hamlin could do it far better than the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Team driver could, and he used it to his advantage. The No. 11 had two points over the Floridian driver in the closing laps and was running fifth.

Chastain was running near the tail end of the top 10 but was out of time. With him not catching any cars and only one lap to go, all hope appeared to be lost. There were simply no miracles left for the Trackhouse team to rely on.

So, its driver made one himself.

In a move Chastain stated was inspired by a NASCAR video game, the Melon Man did not lift heading into turns 3 and 4. Chastain rode the wall and gained five positions in the span of a half-lap to not only catch Hamlin but pass him as well.

With his unprecedented last-lap actions, Chastain would collect enough points to join the Championship 4 for next weekend’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Ross Chastain Did That

Who fell flat?

What on earth happened to Kyle Busch?

Before the end of stage two, the Candyman was six laps down, and it’s a little mysterious as to how he got there.

If it were many other drivers, such as those of Rick Ware Racing or Live Fast Motorsports, nobody would likely bat an eye. Not to mention, Martinsville is a very short racetrack that finds many drivers fall off the lead lap rather easily.

But Busch drives a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. An entry in one of the most competitive top-tier teams in the sport. Additionally, Busch didn’t only lose one lap. He lost six. Under the green flag. Without pitting.

To add to the eerie feeling that something was amiss in the JGR Toyota, Rowdy, who is usually very animated and no stranger to showing frustration on radio broadcasts, was crickets for virtually the entire first half of the race.

It was later revealed the No. 18 was fighting serious handling issues as a result of a tire going down.

However, after that, Busch may as well have not even been in the race. The Candyman finished 29th and still six laps down despite having his issues supposedly remedied.

One can rack it up as a driver struggling with a tire issue. However, in just about every example of that happening, hasn’t the driver come to pit road to change tires immediately? And while doing so, haven’t they at least been communicating with their teams?

It’s not only Busch’s lack of pace that was odd, but it was also his reaction – that of complete silence.

Eerie for a passionate driver that’s about to leave a team he’s been with for over a decade.

What did this race prove?

In 10 years from now, people will still be talking about this race.

In 50 years, people will still be talking about this race.

All because of that pass.

Brave, silly or stupid, it doesn’t matter how you look at it. We’re going to be watching reruns of that moment until the end of racing. It shocked the NASCAR community, both newcomers and the most hardened of champions alike. Jeff Burton, a NASCAR veteran of almost three decades exasperated on the live NBC broadcast that he had never seen anything like it in his life.

But it isn’t only the NASCAR community that is flabbergasted but the whole sports world with it.

NASCAR could not have asked for better promotional material to hype up next week’s championship race, because for the next week everybody with a sports-related journalism position is going to be talking about that one moment, and they’ll be talking about it for a while.

In other words, Trackhouse, the team co-owned by music artist Pitbull, will once again not only promote NASCAR racing through its success, but transcend it. Just like it did with Daniel Suarez‘s victory at Sonoma Raceway.

And why? Because in almost 75 years of NASCAR history, through thousands of races, drivers and finishes, nobody has ever seen anything like it.

Going forward, the question remains – should we see it again?

Should it be banned? Both sides have some solid arguments. A driver sitting second or third at Martinsville in the future may just remember that moment and attempt it him or herself. How many times will that happen until somebody gets injured? Larson, a driver that did something similar at Darlington Raceway a year ago, doesn’t like that visual at all.

Then, there are others who think it should be allowed because, well, it was pretty cool.

Thankfully, there is some time to settle that debate before somebody can try it again. With that said, for once, why don’t we just shut up for a second and enjoy the history that we just saw being made?

Better than last time?

Believe it or not, there were a whole 499 laps that occurred before Chastain’s charge.

And no, they certainly didn’t live up to its excitement. But hey, it was better than the Spring.

To be fair, that’s a low bar to live up to. The spring race at Martinsville was considered among the worst run at the racetrack during its seven decades in NASCAR.

While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it certainly didn’t live up to the short track’s standards of the last 10 years or so. Had it not been for the late-race cautions, Sunday’s event was Bell’s to lose. The rest of the field could do nothing but watch as the laps ticked away, as no drivers could make any meaningful attempts at passing. That’s frustrating for any fans of a driver not already in the top four of the playoff standings.

It wasn’t much better up front, either. The spring race saw only six lead changes and four different leaders. Sunday had eight changes among five drivers by comparison.

It was a slight improvement, sure, and there’s no doubt the late-race playoff craziness provided plenty of entertainment for fans even without Chastain’s Leeroy Jenkins charge.

However, the Next Gen car is still leaving a bad taste in the mouths of short track fans with its difficulty to pass and middling competition. For a sport that’s looking to add short tracks, such as North Wilkesboro Speedway and the Nashville Fairgrounds to their schedule, that’s a dangerous precedent to be setting.

Paint scheme of the race

While Chris Buescher‘s throwback to incoming Hall of Famer Matt Kenseth was one of the more notable liveries circulating around Martinsville on Sunday, it is indeed Halloween weekend, and as such, there should be a celebration of those that dressed up for the occasion.

There were a couple teams running spooky schemes this week, but one seemingly rose above the others.

Everybody likes puns, right?

The Busch Beer brand on Kevin Harvick‘s No. 4 has made multiple appearances on Thinkin’ Out Loud when it comes to paint schemes of the race, and that’s really because they seem to love being unique. Orange and black are the proper holiday colors, and having spiders, gravestone silhouettes and spooky trees on hills in its design perfectly capture the vibes of Halloween.

No, it’s not likely anybody is planning on passing out Busch Beers for Trick or Treating. But the brand still outdid a lot of other sponsors that are far more involved in the holiday in terms of paint scheme design.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

What’s next?

It all comes down to one last weekend of competition.

The Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway for the final race of the 2022 season where the Championship 4 will race for the NASCAR title. Cup qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship begins on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET with the race televised live on NBC on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 3 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

NASCAR RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: MARTINSVILLE

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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21 Comments
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janice

just waiting for the nanny state to make a rule that says you can’t do what chastain did on the last lap yesterday.

sport was good for a brief moment in time yesterday. what chastain did reminded me of what earnhardt sr would had done to make it to run for the championship. the old intimidator was smiling down on the watermelon man.

JER

Ross Chastain just became a legend and drivers who want a rule against this move are probably more resentful than anything else. It’s the equivalent of the “Hail Mary” in football. Heck it seldom works but it still its fun to see. Heck for me this was far more exciting than the “Pass In The Grass” that actually wasn’t a pass.

Bill B

As I said when I commented on this yesterday, I borrow a line from the movie “Tin Cup”…. In 10 years most fans will not remember who won this race, but they will never forget Ross Chastain’s 4th place finish. It is the greates 4th place finish in the history of motorsports and that’s why it will be legendary. Definitely thinking outside of the box.

If Kyle Busch wants to know why his career is in the tank all he needs to do is look on top the 20’s pit box. He should have found a way to make it work with Adam Stevens.

Kevin in SoCal
Bill B

Not at all. My point is, that when you find chemistry between a driver and crew chief it’s best to keep that going for as long as you can. I felt the same way when Evernham left Gordon, and being a Gordon fan I knew right then he would never reach those heights again. Likewise, I cursed the fact that Knauss and Johnson stuck together so long.

Frank

I think NASCAR should just stay out of it. Best thing that hapened in their racing all year. If a guy has the balls to try that move and it works, leave him alone. I for one thought it was fantastic. Good job Ross.

babydufus

like what chastain did or not, this is exactly the kind unexpected consequence that this format produces. the kind of moment that nascar was dreaming about.

i think its effect on viewership will most likely be quite small and will mostly just attract the type of short term fan that likes to watch train wrecks.

the move – i loved it. it was out of the box thinking that did not break any rules to beat the system of rules. again exactly what this system will produce.

the “play off elimination system – eliminate it and get back to racing.

Ted

As a Chase Elliot fan, I would be ok to see Chastain win the title this year. He almost deserves it at this point.

Christopher

That Larson, a well known rim rider himself, would stand there with his ‘serious’ face on and say such things is hilarious. Perhaps he’s mad because he’s never pulled it off. Considering the blocks that drivers make on the last lap of plate races that can potentially kill a driver or spectators, this sudden concern about banzai last lap moves is beyond hypocritical.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher
wildcats2016

Of course there are people whining, they can’t just enjoy the fact that what Chastain did yesterday was fun for the fans. Geez, if NASCAR makes a “rule” against it, I’ll probably watch even less than I do now!

The sport used to be about fun and excitement and race car drivers doing daring things! Now it’s wah wah wah all the time.

And did I mention that a good day IMO is Hamlin not making the playoffs.

janice

besides chastain’s move….hamlin’s expression at the end of the race was priceless and made me smile.

Echo

ME TOO lololol

Bill B

Agreed. Going into the round of 8 I was fine with any of the drivers making it to the final 4 except Hamlin. I really don’t care who wins the championship but I will pull for Chastain or Bell just because neither have won a championship before.

Carl D.

I’m glad Hamlin got eliminated, but I almost felt sorry for him… almost. Still, he handled his disappointment professionally and with class. I didn’t like the boos.

However, the boos after Saturday’s Xfinity race were entrely appropriate.

Kevin in SoCal

What does everyone mean “never seen anything like that before” ?!?!?!?

What about Carl Edward’s bonzai move into the wall at Kansas against Jimmie Johnson? How quickly we have short memories. Did we forget because it didn’t work?

I feel bad for Hamlin. I know he’s not well liked but he’s won everything but the Championship.

I’m pulling for Logano and Chastain at Phoenix.

Bill B

First thing I thought about when I saw what Chastain did was Carl Edwards at Kansas. I remembered.

DoninAjax

Drivers with a (P) led 500 laps. Anyone want to bet on the top four finishers at the next example of Brian’s product? The other 32 drivers might as well have their own separate event or stay home and save their sponsors some money.

Kevin in SoCal

Also what happend to Brad Kesolowski? What did he get disqualified for?

Bill B

The height of the car was too low.

Kicks

I thought the weight was low, not the height.

Bill B

You are correct, it was the weight.

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