It’s been the story you’ve been hearing about since Sunday (Oct. 30) — Ross Chastain put his No. 1 Chevrolet against the wall and floored it, passing numerous cars who took the corner the proper way and speeding into the Championship 4.
All over the motorsports globe, folks have had an opinion on whether they thought Chastain’s move was one good for NASCAR or one that the sport should review to prevent something like this from happening in the future. Frontstretch‘s own Vito Pugliese and Mark Kristl debate NASCAR’s hottest current topic.
Here Comes The Fun Police
Let me start off by saying, the “Haul-Ass Wall Pass” will go down in history as one of the iconic moments in NASCAR.
It’s on the same plane as the Pass in the Grass, the final lap at the 1992 Winston and Cale Yarborough beating on Bobby Allison’s fist with his face in the 1979 Daytona 500. The reach Chastain’s move had in the 48 hours since it happened has been equally transcendent on news shows and across all social media platforms.
It’s a positive because it helped do two things: purge our memories of the Bowman Gray Stadium-esque garbage move Ty Gibbs executed the day before and help push the Bubba Wallace/Kyle Larson incident further into the recesses of our collective memory.
With that said, here comes the Fun Police to ruin it for everyone.
I think some of the faux-furrowed brow hand-wringing about it being “embarrassing” for the sport is a bit precious. We’ve had bar-room brawls break out the last two weeks after and during a race, and one of the most talented drivers in the series had to quit Sunday with concussion-like symptoms after bending the steering wheel after bumping into another car in traffic. We had the heir to one of the flagship rides in all of motorsports intentionally wreck his teammate, then compare himself to (checks notes) … Jesus.
Yeah, I can think of a couple of things right off the bat that are embarrassing and more harmful to the sport than the Leeroy Jenkins – World of Warcraft send that Chastain managed to pull off.
Now, do I feel it sets a bad precedent? Absolutely, it does.
Let’s say there’s the exact same scenario next spring at Martinsville Speedway. Not for the win, obviously not for anything playoff-related, but someone trying to get a top 10 with a 15th-place car. They pull it a lap earlier, break something and then a caution comes out. There is nothing more infuriating than someone running mid-pack or laps down affecting the legitimate outcome of a race (or as in 2016, the actual championship). Or there is something that happens coming off of turn 4, the track is blocked and here comes a 140-mph missile into it, in the new, super-safe NASCAR Cup Series car. More injuries!
Cup Series aside, there are two other series we have to account for that see what the big kids are doing and then try to emulate it — usually with unsatisfactory results.
The Camping World Truck Series, which used to be a seniors’ tour of sorts, has basically become a rung-and-a-half above the ARCA Menards Series — with overly aggressive and desperate driving typically being the rule of the day. This is where I think something really bad could happen given some of the incidents we’ve seen this year and a few extra short tracks mixed in. Not that it would work everywhere — because it physically won’t.
We have seen it attempted recently: Kyle Larson last year at Darlington Raceway trying to pass — coincidentally — Denny Hamlin, and Sheldon Creed this year at Darlington as well (flat tire notwithstanding). Carl Edwards famously took a shot at it at Kansas Speedway in 2008, though it was initiated as more of a dive bomb/slide job.
You’d need somewhere where the corner speeds are relatively slow, which would narrow it down to Martinsville, North Wilkesboro Speedway and the L.A. Coliseum. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is way too fast, obviously, and has a notoriously dark history as well with that sort of thing. Phoenix Raceway, possibly (just in time for the championship race!), but it still feels like the entry speed would be way too fast to pull off.
Bristol Motor Speedway dirt is the only other one that might lend itself to that. Would it really be any worse than Chase Briscoe throwing it in on the low side and taking out Tyler Reddick in the process?
While I might sound like I’m contradicting myself, I’ve seen what is acceptable degenerate exponentially over the years. When Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd made slight contact in 1989 at North Wilkesboro, Earnhardt wanted Rudd suspended and fined. In 1996, when Earnhardt tapped Bobby Labonte at Rockingham Speedway on the final turn, fans threw rocks at the Goodwrench hauler as it left the track. Jeff Gordon’s bump and run at Bristol in 1997? It wasn’t celebrated like it is today on highlight reels at the time to say nothing of Earnhardt rattling Terry Labonte’s cage a year later. 150,000 deafening boos and middle fingers were the order of the day.
Chastain’s move was different in that he made it work and didn’t negatively affect anybody else’s race. I mean, besides Hamlin. The sheer absurdity of the car rocketing around the track like runners in a 1920s baseball film was downright comical.
While I don’t want to see additional rules or penalties introduced for something that probably will never work again, it might be worth putting something against the wall, like sand or gravel, to discourage it at the shorter tracks. I’d hate to have negative fallout or something tragic happen should something go wrong.
As Kevin Harvick tweeted a couple of weeks ago with regard to safety in NASCAR, “Save us from ourselves.” – Vito Pugliese
A Crazy Moment Propelled NASCAR Forward
NASCAR wants its drivers and teams to give maximum effort for the entire race, and at Martinsville, Chastain went above and beyond the 100% rule.
He risked it all to make the Championship 4, and he succeeded. Additionally, his crazy maneuver became a jaw-dropping moment throughout the entire garage. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in NASCAR, Chastain found a way to remind everyone of the true talent of NASCAR drivers.
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson was the first outspoken driver against the integrity of Chastain’s move. But Larson did not provide a legitimate reason.
If Larson was passionately against the move, he would have provided details. Instead, he possibly was jealous Chastain successfully pulled off the move Larson tried at Darlington in 2021.
Joey Logano offered the most details against why that move should not be allowed in the future, albeit while laughing. Frankly, it’s hard to take someone seriously when they’re laughing about it.
💭 "We all talked about it. He actually did it. He's nuts." 😂
While @joeylogano thinks @RossChastain's move was clever, he said #NASCAR "probably (needs) to make sure that doesn't happen again" and calls the move "very dangerous."@Team_Penske | @ClaireBLang pic.twitter.com/x5de2WhZo1
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) October 31, 2022
In stick-and-ball sports, one cliched phrase is to “sacrifice your body for the ball.” Baseball players dive to snag the baseball, football players dive to catch the football or make that leaping tackle, basketball players crash into each other, desperately trying to make or block a shot, etc. At Martinsville, Chastain sacrificed his No. 1 for the Championship 4 berth.
Chastain’s success was the culmination of the perfect storm. Drivers braked their racecars into the corner, Martinsville has minimum banking, so Chastain could pilot his No. 1 against the wall, and it was the last lap, so Chastain could damage his racecar and not suffer long-term consequences.
If Chastain would have mistimed when he shifted up to fifth gear, if he would have driven his No. 1 nose-first into the wall or if a competitor would have slid up to block him as Hamlin did to Larson at Darlington, it wouldn’t have received as much publicity. As a result, no rule is needed; it is a self-policing situation.
Chastain’s feat made national headlines. It brought NASCAR back into the limelight for good reasons, not injuries, bad crashes, etc. More people have viewed NASCAR on NBC’s tweet of the move than actual viewers of the Martinsville Cup race. That’s unbelievable! So how is that damaging to the integrity of the sport?
Logano predicted drivers will try that move moving forward. Can that be accomplished at all racetracks? Go play a video game to see. Increasing the publicity of a NASCAR video game? That increases the NASCAR brand.
So what happens if drivers succeed in attempting that? It will be entertaining. As NASCAR seeks to increase its ratings and attendance with concerts, big-name celebrities, a street course, etc., entertaining races may capture more fans to watch as well as attend races. That’s good for the integrity of the sport — people wanting to watch the racing.
If drivers attempt that move in the future, it’s on their competitors to defend it. Like the no-huddle offense, it’s on the defense to respond accordingly. Drivers attempted to block the high-speed pack racing at superspeedways, drivers learned how to use the choose cone rule and drivers figured out how to make slide jobs work. The onus is on the drivers to learn how to both make that move and defend against it.
NASCAR racing has evolved and continues to evolve with the Next Gen racecar, new racetracks and now a new last-lap racing pass.
Evolution is healthy; it is a continual reminder of why NASCAR drivers are the best racecars drivers in the world. At Martinsville, Chastain’s walk-off pass, as MRN broadcaster Jeff Striegle described it, evidenced why he will compete at Phoenix Raceway for a chance at his first Cup Series championship. – Mark Kristl
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