NASCAR Cup Series
Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain claim Championship 4 spots in unbelievable Martinsville finish
Oct 30, 2022
Believe it or not, Ross Chastain had lost a race this way before, but it wasn't in real life.
"I think the first time I ever saw a race car do that was on a video game," Chastain said. "GameCube. Did anyone else have one of those? My brother Chad beat me doing it at the fictitious Dodge Raceway, somewhere in a fake city, somewhere in Florida."
If you’ve played NASCAR Thunder 2005, you know the race track, as it’s an industrialized version of Bowman Gray Stadium – effectively the LA Coliseum before that was even conceived.
But Chastain says he never once thought to actually try to win one this way in real life. At least, not until he actually made the decision, which presented itself on the final lap when some combination of spotter Brandon McReynolds and crew chief Phil Surgen told him exactly what he would somehow need to accomplish.
With Christopher Bell cruising to another walk-off win, Chastain was two points behind Denny Hamlin for the final spot in the Cup Series final four with no realistically viable way to make the positions up. So, Chastain grabbed fifth gear out of Turn 2, took his hands off the steering wheel and just barreled into the Turn 3 wall and let fate play itself out.
"My bandwidth was shot when I entered Turn 3 and grabbed fifth gear," Chastain said. "Everything went blurry. I couldn’t comprehend it.
"I had to ask (the team). I saw Justin (Marks) and Brock, our gas man grabbing each other and celebrating on the big screen in the infield. I thought that must be a good sign. But yeah, I questioned it. When I grabbed fifth, I was like 'Well, it's going now. My foot stayed down. I committed to the wall early. It didn't slow down, so it worked."
It actually worked.
"Complete mayhem in the car," Chastain said. "Phil keyed up and said, 'You did it, we did it, we're in.'
"It's wild that my brain, thinking back through those moments of what all happened, I saw (Hamlin) out my window net across the line, and I was looking at him. I hit (Keselowski). Like, I knew it, but I did not comprehend it.
"All that time my radio is silent, as far as I remember. I looked up, dropped the net, I saw them. 'Tell me, boys.' Phil keyed up and I just lost my mind. I was screaming and fist pumping. ... I just lost my mind all the way around pit road."
Back to the decision to go for it though.
There was no other way to pass those cars so what was the worst that could happen if it didn’t? Crash out of the race? Okay. He was already below the cutline at the white flag and there was absolutely nothing to lose.
"I thought why not," Chastain said. "That's a motto that some buddies and I have back home. We live by 'why not?' To apply that to the Cup Series in this scenario: There are rules. There are a lot of rules out here.
"I didn't know how it would all work out. I didn't know if the physics would work to make it around the corner, but it did. I'm sure glad it did."
That natural inclination to rewrite the expected norms is at the heart of 'Trackhouse' and is effectively why Marks hired Chastain to drive his No. 1 car in the first place.
"To come down to a move like that is something I never would have imagine in my wildest dreams, that a race car driver could have a mindset to try it," Marks told Racing America after the race. "It’s a demonstration that Ross wants this more than anyone I’ve ever seen anyone want anything.
"He wants to be someone in this sport. He wants to win championships in this sport. He’s willing to redefine what’s possible and to make a move like that is a glimpse into his really unique psychology."
Team president Ty Norris says Chastain is a special talent because he made that move for more than himself. He is adamant that it wasn’t entirely about personal fame and glory but about their entire organization.
"That young man is so appreciative for where he’s at now that he did it for all 150 employees, all of our sponsors and partners," Norris told Racing America. "He did it to lift us up. Literally, until I die, that will be the most incredible thing I’ve seen in racing."
Even if you win the championship with him next week?
"Even if we win next week."
While much has been made of the rivalry between Chastain and Hamlin, and what comes as a result of everything that happened on Sunday moving forward, there was actually a more sentimental reasoning behind Trackhouse wanting so badly to beat the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 in the playoffs.
Trackhouse partner Rob Rose, president of Worldwide Express, died unexpectedly last week but the team carried one of his missions with them in addition to the roses adorned on both cars at the track in his memory this weekend.
"Rob only wanted one thing out of NASCAR and that was to beat the FedEx car and to do that, to see Ross get it done by riding the wall like he did, the happiest guy in heaven is Rob Rose, and I can guarantee you that."
To wit, Rose will have the best seat in the house when Chastain and the No. 1 team joins Bell, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott in the championship race.
While Chastain has lived by that 'why not' mantra, Trackhouse has existed this season under a mantra of 'why not us' given the equal footing of the Next Gen car, their support from Chevrolet and a conviction in Chastain and Daniel Suarez.
Why not us to contend for wins?
Why not us winning races?
Why not us making the final four?
Why not us winning the championship?
"We have got all our tools at our disposal to win races and the championship and now it comes down to one race," Marks said. "We have to execute in that race, but in a way it's a lot simpler because there's no points and we just have to win.
"To even have a shot at the championship next week is a proof of concept in what we're trying to build here."
He also has a tenacious driver who has already proven willing and capable of doing whatever it takes to even get to this point.
For all the talk of how Chastain races his fellow competitors, or what decisions he has felt compelled to make to get these first two wins or reach the championship race, he is there. That’s more than 31 other full-time teams can say.
So, when it comes to Chastain against the Field next week and given what he showed himself willing to do on Sunday, it’s Why Not and Why Not Us.
"Let's not forget the path of Trackhouse to get here, how unorthodox we are," Chastain said. "How we took a building and an A team, and then we brought in another team to build this team as a family. We've got more buy-in on the shop floor than I've ever witnessed in a race team. I'm so proud to get to do it with this group, that we'll spread the bits and pieces left from this car out and try to give everybody a little token to remember this night.
"Bigger than the last lap, just remember the fact we are putting ourselves in position to just have a shot at a championship. That's all we ask for."