In the course of five seconds, Ross Chastain made a move that changed the course of NASCAR Cup Series history. If he becomes champion Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, we'll all point back to a Mario Kart-style move at Martinsville that seemed so outrageous, drivers openly wondered if it was even real.
In football, there are Hail Marys. For this watermelon farmer from Florida? It'll forever be known as the Hail Melon.
UNBELIEVABLE!@RossChastain floors it along the wall to go from 10th to 5th and advance to the CHAMPIONSHIP! #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/9qX3eq7T6h— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 30, 2022
"I took a crazy move that nobody would have ever thought," Chastain said, claiming he practiced it playing NASCAR 2005 with his brother on the Nintendo GameCube growing up. "When I committed, I had no idea it would work."
Oh, did it ever in real life, success filtering right from NASCAR into mainstream America. The memes of the moment, which launched Chastain from 10th to fifth in the race, simply write themselves while attracting various forms of disbelief.
@RossChastain is my goat pic.twitter.com/IUzsISHOJ4— tremendation (@_tremendation_) October 30, 2022
Ross Chastain just proved that Herbie Fully Loaded was a legitimate racing movie. pic.twitter.com/3MyEk4TDZK— Mike Davis (@MikeDavis88) October 30, 2022
Even the man he knocked out, Denny Hamlin, had to give Chastain credit.
"Brilliant," Hamlin said. "Certainly, a great move. When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that. But well executed."
The driver of the No. 11 Toyota will have all offseason to steam over another championship opportunity that slipped away. After contact with Chastain left him on the short end of the stick multiple times this season, he had a chance to return the favor at Martinsville and didn't do it.
Now, he'll be sitting at home while Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell found his way in. Bell's second straight win-or-else while facing playoff elimination has him budding into a potential NASCAR superstar.
"The driver is just a small piece of the puzzle for these races," Bell said after charging from 20th starting spot. "The reason why this car won today is because it was the best car on the racetrack. [Crew chief] Adam Stevens, this entire No. 20 group, they just never give up. When our back is against the wall, looks like it's over, they show up and give me the fastest car out there."
Bell's modesty though was overshadowed by the flat-out aggression from Chastain to get the job done. A driver who spent years struggling to simply stay afloat in this sport now has a shot to be champion with a team, Trackhouse Racing, that didn't even start competing until 2021.
"Two years ago," Chastain explained, "In the fall of 2020, I went down to the Southern 500 with Spire Motorsports. It was a big deal for us to race with sticker tires on... It was a big deal to beat one car. Single-digit laps down.
"That was two years ago at the Southern 500. To be here fighting for a championship now, it's so surreal."
Green: The Championship 4. The youth movement is in full bloom in NASCAR as none of the four finalists this year are over age 32. Joey Logano and Chase Elliott, both Cup Series champions, will join Bell and Chastain to fight for the title in Phoenix. While Elliott has the most wins among them (five) he's struggled in the postseason, making Sunday a true toss-up among this quartet.
Yellow: Chase Briscoe. Briscoe and crew chief Johnny Klausmeier nearly pulled off the impossible, stealing track position by not pitting during the final caution on lap 468. For a moment, it looked like old tires would hold everyone off and lead to the biggest Championship 4 upset in playoff history.
This 27-year-old sophomore can still hold his head high after a 10th-place finish, making the cusp of the championship chase despite only five top-five finishes in 35 races this season.
Red: Kyle Busch. How bad was Busch Sunday? He was running dead last on speed much of the day, quiet on the radio for long stretches as teams with a tenth of the funding were breezing by. Six laps down in 29th was his fifth finish outside the top 25 in nine playoff races.
As wife Samantha vocalized on Twitter, it's a shame how a 15-year partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing is ending after two titles and 56 Cup victories between them.
Speeding Ticket: The reaction to Chastain's move. Chastain's rim-riding attracted all types of positive attention for the sport from people that don't really follow it. That's what NASCAR wants, right, in a year Formula 1 has eaten into their popularity?
So why are drivers so weird over it? Kyle Larson said, "That's not a good look for our sport" even though he tried the same thing at Darlington in last year's Southern 500. Joey Logano said the move was "awesome" and in the next breath goes, "As spectacular as it was, right… now the box is open. Now, every Xfinity race, every Cup race, every Truck race … this wall riding is going to be a play. That's not good… 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."
Say what? I think it's a gross overreaction to an incredible move. Others have, indeed, tried this before and seen it not work out (see: Larson). No car owner is also going to employ someone who tears up a car like that each and every week; thinking 40 cars will try that every race is just ludicrous to me.
Just like a Hail Mary, the move would only be used for exceptional circumstances by drivers who understand the risk. Putting a rule in place eliminates some exciting unpredictability for a sport that needs it.
Up-and-coming NASCAR Cup Series rookie Ty Gibbs is in hot water this week after a last-lap maneuver during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. Fighting teammate Brandon Jones for the win, which would have earned Jones a spot in the Championship 4, Gibbs flat-out dumped him during the final lap of overtime.
Ty Gibbs WRECKS Brandon Jones to WIN at Martinsville!— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 29, 2022
Jones is eliminated from the #NASCARPlayoffs. pic.twitter.com/jWpU9LpxCX
The incident caused jeers to come from the stands.
Fans chanting "Thank you, grandpa" to Ty Gibbs as he celebrates in victory lane. pic.twitter.com/bPGgePBGs8— Jordan Bianchi (@Jordan_Bianchi) October 29, 2022
Gibbs' reaction? Egging the crowd on before bringing his Christianity into it, claiming, "Jesus was hated first and among all the people."
Sounds like a guy who didn't learn his lesson. The garage almost universally condemned the move with teammate Jones, moving onto another organization next year, claiming he "lost all respect" for Gibbs while stopping short of saying he'll wreck him back Saturday as retribution.
"None of us want what happened last night," said team owner Joe Gibbs about his grandson. "So, when things like that happen, there's going to be consequences."
OK. What are they? NASCAR has said they won't intervene, claiming it was an aggressive battle for the win that differentiated it from Bubba Wallace's suspension two weeks ago. Every indication is Ty Gibbs will strap in and fight for a Xfinity title this Saturday with just a "stern talking to."
Feels like that's not going to be enough. Will another driver take matters into his own hands at Phoenix to teach Ty a lesson?