Sunday’s finish at Martinsville Speedway will go down as an all timer in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series. While Christopher Bell’s race win should be commended and celebrated after pulling out TWO must win victories in consecutive rounds of the Playoffs, the attention received has paled in comparison to approximately 8 seconds of footage from Ross Chastain.
Needing to close the points gap to season long rival Denny Hamlin the Trackhouse standout driver of the 1 car took one last ditch effort to advance his position and somehow catch Hamlin to secure the 4th and final spot in the following week’s Championship final. It’s difficult to put into words the number of variables that had to work out a certain way to allow Chastain to pull this off. Taking away all the physics and math involved in such a move, what matters the most is the driver that pulled it off…the literal Florida Man who probably couldn’t have told you one thing about the science of what could have gone wrong in that moment.
There’s been some debate on whether this was a “good” move to make, but what’s most important to me is how NASCAR as a governing body intends to address the issue going forward. As it stands at the moment, NASCAR has no plans to make a rule change for Phoenix, meaning any changes would have to come in the new season for 2023. But frankly, we’re thinking too hard about this.
The best part of Chastain’s move is how unlikely it was, and yet some members of the racing fan base and media seem to think this now means it’s all but a certainty to happen more frequently in the future. While I can’t tell you what a driver might or might not do, it’s strange to think that a move we haven’t seen in 75 years of NASCAR racing will suddenly become commonplace just because our craziest driver happened to pull it off. Certainly, if the white flag in the future suddenly means “wall ride at full speed if you’re desperate enough” to the field, action will be taken to stop it…but doing so before we’re even sure if it’s repeatable could be a needless risk to competition.
While injuries due to a step backwards in safety of the next gen Cup car are rightfully hard to stomach, it’s a different issue entirely to attempt to regulate the gray area of “unsafe” driving maneuvers, and it rarely ends well. The most common difficulty will be the specific action that NASCAR would need to take if we suddenly say that wall riding is illegal. Just what is wall riding anyway? Certainly, the once in a generation moment that we saw out of Ross Chastain would be easy to call a “wall ride,” but where is the line? Is rubbing the wall at Darlington or Homestead more acceptable as the racing there is more conducive to it? Do we say the driver can only rub the wall for a few meters? A few seconds? Can the driver only gain a spot or two? Or none at all? If someone attempts to recreate Carl Edwards’ Gran Turismo move on the last lap is that an illegal wall slam? There’s far too many questions to answer here, and trusting the governing body to apply them appropriately is a BIG ask, considering trust for consistency is currently quite low. Which would we rather have: a driver going big and making it work to the astonishment of millions? Or seeing a driver make a move and worry like mad if the governing body is going to find it illegal? We have enough problems with the Double Yellow Line rules at Super Speedways, and we don’t need that potential grief every time something exciting happens at any particular race.
Phoenix is but a few short days away and it’ll be interesting to see if a driver pulls a similar move to Ross Chastain’s on the last lap in a rush for the big win. I personally feel that’s unlikely as the tracks are different in construction, but given how 2022 has gone we can’t say anything for certain. If someone does go for it, and heaven forbid if a move like that ends up with a massive wreck or worse, we can count on NASCAR to do something about it in regards to safety. But for now, I think it’s best we let this moment rest on its merits for exactly what it is, a generational anomaly that reminds us why we watch and love this sport. Let’s appreciate it for what it is, and not worry about what it could mean down the road.
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