During last October's NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, Ross Chastain pulled the wildest move of the 2022 season when he rode the wall on the final lap of Xfinity 500 and slingshotted himself from 10th place to fifth. Chastain's full-speed finish at Martinsville allowed him to beat out Denny Hamlin and earn a spot alongside Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, and Joey Logano in the Championship Four.
Despite the fact that Chastain's paint-peeling maneuver will be on NASCAR highlight reels for years to come, not everyone was happy with the Trackhouse Racing driver risky decision. Chief among the detractors was Kyle Larson, even though he pulled the same exact move at Darlington Raceway in 2021 (and against Denny Hamlin, no less).
"It's just a bad look," Larson said. "I'm embarrassed that I did it at Darlington. Maybe if I didn't do it last year, people wouldn't even think to do that, so I'm embarrassed myself and glad that I didn't win that way (at Darlington). It's not just a good look. Not a good look. It's embarrassing."
"I guess I'd ask you guys, what makes that not embarrassing? If you think that's fair, why would you think that's fair?"
Hamlin may have gotten effectively eliminated from the playoffs thanks to Chastain, but he actually praised the 29-year-old driver's win-at-any-cost mentality. Besides, at least Chastain didn't wreck Hamlin in the process.
"Great move," Hamlin said. "Brilliant. Certainly a great move. When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that. But well executed."
Joey Logano, who placed sixth at Martinsville, was somewhere in the middle of Larson and Hamlin when it came to his assessment of Chastain's move. While he himself liked it, he also admitted that it sets a dangerous precedent for future races.
"As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right? 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," Logano said.
"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."
So, what was the secret behind Chastain's Martinsville move? Well, apparently, it pays to play a lot of NASCAR video games growing up.
"Oh, played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube with (younger brother) Chad growing up," Chastain said. "You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work."
"I mean, I did that when I was 8 years old. I grabbed fifth gear, asked off of two on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn't tell who was leading. I made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back. Full committed. Basically let go of the wheel, hoping I didn't catch the turn four access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it."
Now, the "Hail Melon," as it was later dubbed (on account of Chastain being a former watermelon farmer), was officially banned a couple weeks before the start of the 2023 Cup Series season. In its official decision, NASCAR cited an existing rule, which covers "violations deemed to compromise the safety of an event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of competitors, officials, spectators."
Unfortunately, we probably won't be seeing any wall-riding moves in the future, since any driver attempting the maneuver in the future will be slapped with a time penalty. Oh, well. At least we'll always have Martinsville.
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