By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Don’t tell Ross Chastain that playing video games doesn’t pay off.
Using a move that multitudes of NASCAR video game players have used over the years, Chastain kept his foot to the floor on the final lap of Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville, purposefully driving his No. 1 Chevrolet into the Turn 3 wall and keeping it there to advance past Denny Hamlin and take the final transfer spot into the Championship 4.
Chastain came into the day with a 19-point advantage over the cut-off line, but in the closing stages of the race, with must-win drivers in the lead, it came down to a battle between the old rivals to see who would claim the final spot on points.
Though Hamlin had the track position advantage over Chastain on the final lap and appeared to be poised to move onto Phoenix for another run at the championship, the wild card of Chastain’s last lap Hail Mary was something no one expected to see and ultimately left Hamlin on the outside looking in.
“Played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the game cube with Chad growing up,” Chastain said of the inspiration for his last lap move. “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. 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.”
Even though it was Chastain that eliminated him, Hamlin was impressed with the move that his old rival pulled on the last lap to snag a place in the championship race.
“Great move,” Hamlin said. “Brilliant. Certainly a great move. When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that. But well executed.”
While disappointed with the elimination, Hamlin gave props to the other drivers for the way the end of the race played out with hard, but clean racing between himself, Chastain, and the other competitors.
He also expressed his thanks to his team for getting him in position to battle for the transfer spot, even if it didn’t end the way he would have wanted.
“We’re trying to battle. Obviously, I was trying to get in there. But it’s racing. It’s what racing is here as Martinsville. Actually, pretty happy with somewhat how clean it was there towards the end, as crazy was it was with guys on different tires.
“Can’t say enough for my team to give us a shot. We were in 20s for most of the season in our points because of our up-and-down execution.
“We’re going to end up fifth in points. That is what it is.”