by Julian Spivey
I still don’t know quite what to say because even four days later I’m still as flabbergasted and jaw-dropped as I was on the final lap of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 30.
What I do know is Ross Chastain pulled off the greatest pass in the history of NASCAR. If that’s too much for you then I’ll amend my statement to Ross Chastain pulled off the greatest pass in the 21 years I’ve been a fan of NASCAR.
You really just have to watch this for yourself and keep in mind it hasn’t been sped up. This is his move in real time.
With the way the NASCAR playoff system works the penultimate race of the season, which was in Martinsville on Sunday, cuts the playoff driver field from eight to four drivers. The top four drivers in points (or via wins in the playoff round) move on to compete for the championship at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 6.
When Chastain began the final lap of the race at Martinsville he needed to pass two drivers to overtake Denny Hamlin, his fiercest rival this season, in the playoff point standings to qualify for the championship race. The problem was he was well behind the two cars he needed to pass. It was going to take a miracle for him to make the championship four.
So, remembering past (failed) moves that certain drivers have made in years prior and a move his brother Chad had put on him on the GameCube gaming system as young boys playing “NASCAR 2005.” Chastain realized his one chance was to gas it up, grab fifth gear and throw his car into the outside wall where he could just ride the outside wall without braking. Chastain would effectively have to wreck his car to have any chance at passing cars. This takes massive courage or a few screws loose in the noggin or both. When the move was all said and done Chastain not only had passed two cars but moved from 10th position all the way to fifth place, even passing Hamlin for the fifth spot. He also compiled the fastest lap in both Martinsville and NASCAR history at 18.845 seconds.
The announcers broadcasting the race for NBC Sports couldn’t believe what they had just seen, fans in the stands couldn’t believe what they had just seen, and many of the drivers watching him swoop past him on track couldn’t believe what they had just seen and my wife and I watching from our living room, on our feet whooping and hollering at the television screen damn sure couldn’t believe what we had just seen.
Chastain had just made the greatest pass(es) in NASCAR history. It was the single greatest on-track thing I’d ever seen in 21 years of watching NASCAR and it wasn’t even for a win, but for fifth place and a spot in the championship race where he will compete against Christopher Bell (who had to win Martinsville just to qualify – quite the story in its own right), Chase Elliott and Joey Logano for the title.
Despite it being the greatest and certainly the coolest and most badass thing I’d ever seen in more than two decades as a NASCAR fan this is NASCAR – meaning nothing can go without some people bitching about it. It started with the reigning champion of the sport Kyle Larson telling a reporter on pit road he thought the move was “embarrassing for the sport,” even though he was the most recent driver to attempt a similar move (in failing fashion) at Darlington last season. Other drivers and many fans complained about the “video game” move being against some sort of code of competition, despite the fact Chastain broke zero rules in doing what he did.
Can’t we just let epic be epic for once?
Chastain’s move is one we’re going to be seeing in advertisements for the sport for years to come.