Crash to Win: NASCAR Was Genuinely Exciting On Sunday
You probably missed it, but one of the most exciting moments in modern motorsport occurred over the weekend. Ross Chastain needed to make up five positions on the last lap of the Xfinity 500 if he wanted to make it to the playoffs and opted to throw his car into the outside wall of Martinsville Speedway, remembering that he’d seen that strategy work in old video games. The resulting moment is genuinely surreal to watch, primarily because it worked so well.
The Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet barely slows down after contacting the wall and then continues on at speeds the rest of the pack is incapable of running on the half-mile track. Chastain actually comes around so quickly that he goes from tenth to fifth place in the blink of an eye and briefly makes contact with some of the front runners as they all cross the finish line.
If you’ve ever played a racing video game, especially one before the damage physics became more realistic, you know that the ideal cheater strategy is to slingshot your vehicle around the outside of every corner that’ll have you riding the wall. Gravel traps and run-off areas are no good. You need the firm embrace that only a hard boundary can provide, allowing you to bounce off the corner without having lost all that much speed.
But this is really only supposed to work in a simulated environment, making Chastain’s successful attempt all the more impressive. After the race, the driver even admitted that he literally took inspiration from games he played as a child and simply decided to go for it on the final lap.
“I played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the GameCube with [my brother] Chad growing up, and you can get away with it. I never knew if it would actually work. I mean, I did that when I was eight years old,” he told NBC Sports.
“I grabbed fifth gear, asked off of [Turn] 2 on the last lap if we needed it, and we did. I couldn’t tell who was leading. And I just made the choice, grabbed fifth gear down the back and fully committed. Once I got against the wall, I basically let go of the wheel, just hoping I didn’t catch the Turn 4 access gate or something crazy. But I was willing to do it.”
While intentionally wrecking your vehicle through a turn has got to be one of the most unsafe maneuvers I’ve ever witnessed in stock car racing, you can’t really argue with the results. The No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet managed to fly around the other cars and made up five positions in that final lap – getting Chastain into the final round of the NASCAR playoffs.
He’ll be competing in the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway next Sunday. But something tells me officials will probably try and discourage him from attempting the video-game-inspired stunt, should another opportunity arise. Then again, the glory days of NASCAR seem to be all about foggy rules and healthy levels of contact. Giving drivers the freedom to destroy themselves (and each other) may result in a much-needed ratings boost.
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