MARTINSVILLE, VA — It was shaping up to being a perfect storm against Ross Chastain in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. Chastain started 9th and finished there in both stages. That was 4 points scored for him in the pair of stages. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott went 1-2 in each netting Hamlin 20 stage points and Elliott 18. That pushed Chastain to the bubble.
He was +24 entering the final stage but on the cutline. Should Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, William Byron or Chase Briscoe win, then he’d be out.
Hamlin was leading and Chastain ironically enough was happy with that. Then came Hamlin’s pit road problems that plagued him on his final three stops dropping him from first on Lap 322 to fourth, then from fourth to 6th on the Lap 395 stop and then to 10th on the final stop.
It did push Hamlin back to his clutches, but it also allowed Bell to get into the lead. It was a worst case scenario now for the Florida native. Then with the final caution and Briscoe staying out, Chastain was now in a hard battle with Hamlin for that fourth and final spot to Phoenix.
Inside of 10 to go, it was Briscoe and Bell running 1-2. Hamlin was charging and now in a great spot to advance over Chastain again. Chastain was without little hope. He was playing more defense than offense because his car just didn’t have the speed to close back up to gain another spot or two.
Until the last lap.
Chastain grew up in a watermelon farm family down in Florida. While he would end up becoming a farmer of his own, he did what every kid did when they were younger and played video games. He remembers playing a NASCAR game back in 2005 on his Game Cube. A move he did was to upshift, mash the gas and ride the wall in the Turns at Martinsville. In Turn 2 on the final lap, he was told he needed help.
He was 10th. Hamlin in 5th. He needed 2 more spots but the two spots were well ahead. So, he did the move he did in a video game and oddly enough, it worked.
Chastain shot out of a cannon and looked like he was on fast forward speed compared to everyone else and went from 10th to 5th to beat Hamlin by 4 points and in his first season with Trackhouse, is going to the Championship 4.
That lap he turned was a track record at that. He went 18.845-seconds which beat Joey Logano’s pole record from 2014 (18.898-seconds).
“Oh, played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the game cube with Chad (his brother) growing up. You can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work,” Chastain admitted after the race.
“I mean, I did that when I was eight 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.
“For this Trackhouse group, we’ve done everything. We did so much right this year, for Advent Health, the Moose, Jockey, to lose Rob this year, we got a rose riding with is, right, an angel overhead. I thought about that for a long time.
“Today for our Moose Chevy, we didn’t have what we needed. Just glad we could do whatever we could do. A great pit stop on the last stop to put us in position to even be close enough by our guys, our pit crew, our guys are incredible. All we asked for is a chance.”
The Florida native admits that the move was so far, he couldn’t even begin to comprehend what just happened.
“When I came off turn four, I saw the 11. I ran into the back of the 6 again. I knew it should work,” he said. “My brain could not comprehend, my bandwidth was shot when I entered turn three and I grabbed fifth gear. Everything went blurry. I couldn’t comprehend it.
“I had to ask. I saw Justin and Brook, 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.”
Chastain now reflects on where he was just a few years ago. He was competing with smaller teams just hoping to finish with a lap or two of the leader. Now, he’s got a 1-in-4 shot at a championship a week from now.
“Well, I hope everybody remembers that two years ago in the fall of 2020, I went down to the Southern 500 with Spire Motorsports,” Chastain continued. “It was a big deal for us to race with sticker tires on. We had a podcast sponsoring the car. It was a big deal to beat one car. Single-digit laps down. That was two years ago at the Southern 500. To be here fighting for a championship now, it’s so surreal.
“When I make mistakes on track, I hope everybody remembers two years ago I was out here seven laps down. Now Trackhouse, Chip Ganassi last year giving me an opportunity there in the 42, Doug Duchardt, everybody there.
“Ty Norris and Justin Marks and Pitbull to have this vision give Daniel and I everything we need. Daniel Suarez, an incredible teammate.
“I just can’t not believe that we have a chance to go fight for a championship. All we ask for is a chance. We kept our world small this year so far. We’ll do the same thing going to Phoenix.”
Chastain has three consecutive top 5 finishes heading to Phoenix and was third there this past spring. He has 6 top 7’s in his last 8 races at that.
“Look, yeah, it’s sinking in that we did something that no one else has ever done,” said Chastain. “That’s hard to do in just the world that we live in in 2022, but definitely our sport.
“I mean, you just look around at these pictures on these walls, look at all the drivers that have been here. It definitely would not work in a modified, but it worked in a Next Gen car.”