A majority of today’s NASCAR fans were not alive when Richard Petty and David Pearson wrecked in the 1976 Daytona 500, a move that nearly won Petty the race but ended with him a football field away from the line. They weren’t around when Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison fought on the backstretch three years later.
Many are around to remember the “Pass in the Grass” by Dale Earnhardt, then Davey Allison’s last-lap reach to truly make Charlotte “One Hot Night.”
But, the generation of NASCAR fans today do not have those kind of races to remember. They don’t have the pass for the lead that could lead to glory or devastation. The closest they had could be Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano in 2015, but that was not a pass for the lead. That was a driver taking the leader out after weeks of incidents. Today’s NASCAR fan has been longing for a moment along those lines for years.
Sunday, they not only got one, but they got one that will be replayed for generations to come.
What Ross Chastain did exemplifies who he is as a competitor. We saw it when he won his first race of the year, going all-out and doing what it took to win. Even though he was not going to win, he knew that he had one final opportunity to get where he needed to be. He was in the same position as Petty, Yarborough, and Allison, just needing a chance.
He not only took it, but he solidified his legacy in a matter of seconds.
No one at Martinsville, including most likely his own team, could never expect what he was going to do once he hit high gear. In the booth, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. originally thought he wrecked, and technically he did. But, he did it with a purpose.
Nearly 24 hours later, it’s still the talk of everyone. ESPN put the move as their #1 in their Top-10 countdown for Sportscenter, and they have not been part of the NASCAR scene for a long while. It was that big of a moment for the sport, giving it some exposure it has needed for a long while. No one was talking about the issues with the new car, nor the injuries that it has caused. Instead, it was talking about a man who smashes watermelons after a win decided to put it all on the line for simply a chance at glory.
He certainly got that and more.
And yet already some were saying they want to see a rule to prevent such a move…why?
This is something that will only happen once, because no other driver could even fathom trying to pull off such a move, let alone having the will to even attempt it. Even someone with the hard driving style of a Kyle Busch most likely wouldn’t even consider trying to ride a wall full throttle, at any track. For one thing, trying it at any other track can and likely would be outright deadly.
No one is going to run full-throttle and run the wall at a track like Michigan, or go lead-foot at Bristol.
But still, already the discussion has happened.
How the rules are written, the “Hail Melon” is not a rule breaker. Chastain was racing to the fullest of his ability to get the best position he could, and no one was trying to manipulate the finish to get him in a better spot. There was no “scratch that itch” moment, nor someone being told to back off because it appeared a tire was going down. This was a driver taking matters into his own hands after hearing he needed a few more points, and putting everything on the line.
It’s no different than a quarterback letting loose a pass with the hopes it makes it to the end zone on the final play to win, or relying on the best shooter to make the basket as time expires. This was a team, a driver, that went for a last gasp, and somehow it worked.
The move was within the rules, just as the move Jeff Burton pulled in 2002 was within the rules given.
Everyone remembers the 2002 Winston in the first stage, when Jeff Burton and team understood the required pit stop had to happen before crossing the start/finish line on the final lap. His team read the rule, understood it, and chose their pit accordingly. They did not pit until they were on the final lap, because the pit stall was BEFORE the start/finish line. Burton didn’t break a rule, he pitted before the finish of the segment, and showed it’s all in how you read and interpret the words.
Chastain did the same thing. He raced to the fullest of his ability, and there was no rule saying you couldn’t ride the wall full-tilt in trying to earn positions.
Could a rule change be coming…certainly, but much like Burton in 2002, it’s better to be a rule-maker instead of a rule breaker.
Even if Chastain didn’t make the Championship 4, his full-throttle wall ride is still going to be remembered long after this field of drivers decide it’s time to retire. No one is going to forget what he did no matter how the season finale goes. The talk even through the off-season will be Chastain deciding to turn a GameCube maneuver into a game-deciding risk.
Nothing that happens this Sunday in Phoenix will ever match what one driver achieved in mere seconds. A champion will be crowned, but a legend has already been made.
A rule change will not take away the lasting image of seeing the No. 1 bang against the outside wall with not one instance of a brake pedal being touched. Chastain possibly made himself into yet another rule maker, while “Chastain-ing” a SAFER barrier.
The watermelon farmer just broke his own barrier with a team that many didn’t think would be in this position. There is no glass ceiling with Trackhouse at this point.
Although I think a lot of tracks now will have to ensure their walls can handle a full-tilt bashing by a stock car.