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Drivers: Chastain's Martinsville Move Opens Can of Worms

Kyle Larson called it 'embarrassing' and 'a bad look' for NASCAR.


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Ross Chastain set a NASCAR Cup Series track record at Martinsville Speedway on the final lap of the race by driving into the wall and staying on the throttle through Turns 3 and 4 to pick up the positions he needed to advance to the championship race.

A literal video game move.

Prior to Chastain running a 18.845 second lap on the final lap, the fastest lap of the race was delivered by Kyle Larson on Lap 7 with a 20.508. The actual track record in qualifying was set by Joey Logano in March 2014 with a 18.898.

By deciding not to lift whatsoever through the second half of the final lap, potential consequences be damned, Chastain turned the fastest lap for a Cup Series car in the history of the sport and it sent him to the final four.

It’s arguably a move that never could have happened under any previous generation of car as the Next Gen doesn’t hardly dissipates impact. It is why rear impacts have resulted in several driver injuries this season too.

But for Chastain, on that final lap and with nothing to lose, he just stayed in the gas and dared the car to fail him -- even at the risk of it catching onto the crossover gate and snapping it around into oncoming traffic.

Neither happened and the move worked, which is all Chastain and Trackhouse will care about as this move slips into NASCAR history over the next several decades, but it will generate a lot of conversation about what this means moving forward.

If the Next Gen can take this impact, what is to prevent future Martinsville races from inviting various drivers to simply slam into the wall and gain two seconds in the pursuit of a win that could lock them into the playoffs or send them into the championship?

What are the ethics of utilizing such a move at the highest level?

For one, Larson did not like what he saw immediately after climbing out of the car and watching a replay.

"I don’t know," Larson said with a shrug when asked about it on pit road. "What do you guys think?"

It was reminiscent to a degree of how Larson tried to take the Southern 500 away from Denny Hamlin last year.

"Yeah, and I’m a bit, uh, I don’t know, embarrassed that I did because that was pretty embarrassing, honestly," Larson said. "That’s not a good look for our sport — at all. I don’t know what you guys think. You probably think it’s cool. But I think it’s pretty embarrassing."

Yeah, but the fans cheered, and it was the talk of mainstream sports at least for a night.

"It’s not a good look," Larson said with a shake of his head.

The move allowed Chastain to pick up five spots on the final lap, of which the first two passes were enough to move him ahead of Denny Hamlin in the standings. Hamlin, still processing what had happened, wasn’t quite sure to entirely agree with Larson.

"It was well executed but certainly, I don't know," Hamlin said with a pause. "I didn't think of it that way, but these are the rules we play by and you have to race between these walls, and he found a better way to do it on the last lap."

He was about Larson again a couple of minutes later and added:

"Fans loved it, but ... (chuckles) it's funny, but not for me."

Chase Briscoe wonders if this will encourage similar moves like this in the future.

"Because none of us have been brave enough to ever try it, I'm curious to see what kind of hole it opens up," Briscoe said. "Because now, if it's the last lap at Martinsville and maybe Richmond, just go wide open against the wall.

"It's that big of an advantage. It'll be interesting to see what happens now. Now that we know it's that big of an advantage. If you're running second or third, you're going to do that because you're going to win the race."

Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 and William Byron agreed, especially with a sluggish car that has minimized the effects of the bump-and-run.

"Is that the move at Martinsville on the last corner, really," Fugle said. "How do you block that if you're the leader? 99 laps running around the bottom and then for the final lap everyone just pounds the fence. I don't know if that's what we need."

Ryan Blaney wishes he had done it from third because it might have won him the race.

"I just saw it and I guess I wish I should have done it," Blaney said. "I guess we’ll all start doing it now coming down to the end of the race."

Would that be a bad thing?

"I don’t care, that’s for you to decide," he said back.

For what it’s worth, NASCAR said Chastain was not in violation of any rules, and certainly he didn’t damage anyone other than himself to make it work. It was also reminiscent of Carl Edwards going full throttle under Jimmie Johnson at Kansas Speedway in 2008 but the divebomb didn’t stick and the Roush Racing No. 99 just bounced off the wall in vain.

Joey Logano took the Briscoe sentiment a step further.

"As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right," Logano said. "Now every Xfinity race, every Truck race, every Cup race, no matter the track, this wall riding is going to be a play. That's not good. That's not good.

"I mean, it was awesome, it was cool. It happened for the first time. There's no rule against it. 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.

"I don't know if it's the safest thing for the driver or the fans when you have a car right up at the wall hauling the mail like that. What if that fence, gate, wasn't closed all the way? What if it was bent and caught his car? That's a big risk that Ross was willing to take. God bless him, that's awesome (but) I don't think we need to do that every week."

But how do you even write or enforce a rule against that? There were no hypothetical track limit violations at play. Chastain simply used up every inch of the track available and it was no different that Larson himself at Eldora in a Truck Series race slapping the right rear off until it crashed.

Of course, this isn’t dirt either, but it is a short track. At the same time, these cars have increased the danger to driver safety and Chastain conceded that it was physically jarring.

"The wiring in my head … I’m an organ donor so maybe they’ll study in one day," Chastain said with a laugh. "I really am an organ donor. I think everyone should be."

Larson likely was indicating that it was just poor form by Chastain to take the final championship race spot that way -- a breach of ethics at the highest level of North American motorsports.

Justin Marks, owner of the Trackhouse Racing car Chastain drivers, was even keeled in response to what Larson had to say, and didn’t entirely dismiss the implications but with a caveat.

"I think it’s hard to have that conversation right now," Marks told Racing America after the race. "That's a tough one because if you're willing to do something like that and put yourself into the playoffs without putting anyone else at risk and making a move that no one ever thought of, I don't see how that could be a problem.

"We'll see what happens from here (but) in this moment, I'm just proud of how badly he wanted it."

Logano wants NASCAR to step in and have some kind of rule in place before the championship race in Phoenix because he doesn’t want the title decided in a similar fashion. To that point, somewhat similarly, Ryan Newman went full throttle there in 2014 and slammed Larson into the wall to get the point he needed.

It knocked Jeff Gordon out of the championship race similarly to what happened to Hamlin on Sunday.

"Like I said, the box is open now," Logano said. "It's going to continue to happen until we do something about it. Yeah, I mean, Phoenix presents the opportunity for it, too. A little different entry point and all that. But, yeah, when you're going for a championship, you're probably going to do it.

"You're leading going into the last corner, you're going to put it in the wall? Geez. It's cool, it happened once, we don't need to make this a thing."

At the same time, Hamlin crew chief and veteran short track racer Chris Gabehart doesn’t know if NASCAR needs yet another arbitrary judgement call rule to enforce.

"It’s hard to keep up with all these rules, much less enforce them all," Gabehart said. "Without going back and processing, listening and hearing what everyone like Larson had to say, I can’t imagine making a rule for something like that.

"That seems silly."

Ultimately, it seems like this is more a matter of sportsmanship than something that needs a rule attached to it, from Briscoe’s perspective.

"I wish that I would have done it now, obviously, looking back on it," Briscoe said. "It’s like a 50/50 deal because any of us could have done it, but is it fair to those seven guys he passed? Probably not, but all seven of us could have done the same thing.

"Like I said a second ago, I’m very curious to see how this changes the complexion at the end of these short track races because you could for sure do it here, it’s been proven. You could do it at Richmond probably. There are a couple other racetracks – the Coliseum you could do it. There are a lot of racetracks we could probably do this now every time, so it’ll be interesting to see.

"I don’t think they’re going to penalize him, but maybe it’s something to look at going into next year just with the rule book. I think it’s a pretty black and white thing to put in the rules, but kudos to him for doing it. We could have all done it. We just didn’t."