NASCAR racer Ross Chastain pulled an epic wall-riding pass during the dying moments of the Xfinity 500 on Sunday, securing his place in the NASCAR Cup Series championship race.
With two corners to go on the last lap, Chastain accelerated flat out and used the wall of Martinsville Speedway to guide his car around the outside of the pack. The move, straight out of a video game, rocketed him from 10th place all the way up to fifth, while wrecking his car in the process.
The last-ditch effort was enough to give Chastain a shot at the title, placing him third in the standings on points. The NASCAR championship will be decided in Phoenix on Nov. 6 between the top four contenders. Chastain will go up against Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, and Chase Elliot for the honors. Bell himself secured his spot in the Championship 4 by winning the Xfinity 500 on Sunday.
As is always the case in motorsport, though, there are always winners and losers. Denny Hamlin was in the running for the title right up until Chastain came charging through around the outside. That bumped Hamlin down to sixth place at the Xfinity 500, ultimately placing him fifth in the championship on points.
Chastain ultimately credited video games with inspiring the maneuver. "Played a lot of NASCAR 05 on the Gamecube with [brother] Chad growing up," said Chastain, adding "I never knew if it would actually work. I did that when I was 8 years old."
Chastain is no stranger to video games, even to this day. He recently bested Danny Hemlin in a sim race with little more than a cheap Logitech wheel on a kitchen table.
Riding the walls works well in video games where the damage model is turned off or has low consequences. In the real world, it wrecks a car and provides negligible benefits.
However, in this rare case at Martinsville, the conditions were just right for success. Chastain had a clear path around the outside. The wall was the only way to make it around at a high enough speed to pass everyone. With only two corners to go, wrecking the car wouldn't matter. Plus, Chastain had nothing to lose. He was well down the order and would miss out on the championship unless he did something drastic.
In the end, the move paid off, to the adulation of fans unaccustomed to such a glorious spectacle. Simultaneously, there have been calls to ban the practice going forward. Any maneuver that grants an advantage is sure to be exploited by all competitors. The risk is that final lap carnage could regularly ensue as desperate racers try for last-ditch wall rides to salvage points. Fred Smith, Motorsports Editor of Road & Track, called the move "sick as hell" on Twitter, but called for regulation to avoid a farce at future races.
Hendricks Motorsports driver Kyle Larson was outright against the move, however. "That's not a good look for our sport. Maybe you guys think it's cool. I think it's embarrassing," Larson told assembled press after the race.
If Chastain snatches championship victory in Phoenix, he'll have this wall ride to thank for it. Whether he wins or not, though, it will go down in history as a move to remember.
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