The viral wall-ride move that propelled Ross Chastain to the final round of NASCAR Cup playoffs last year has been effectively outlawed by the American stock car racing association.
Chastain, who drives for the Trackhouse team that purchased Ganassi’s Cup entry and assets in 2021, threw his car into the outside wall at the short Martinsville oval in the penultimate race of the 2022 season in a last-ditch effort to secure the final spot in the so-called Championship 4 title decider.
UNBELIEVABLE!@RossChastain floors it along the wall to go from 10th to 5th and advance to the CHAMPIONSHIP! #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/9qX3eq7T6h
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 30, 2022
His gamble – one inspired by the NASCAR 2005 game on the Nintendo Gamecube – not only paid off, vaulting him ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin in the standings and keeping his title hopes alive at the expense of Hamlin’s but immediately entered motorsport folklore as an iconic moment of unexpected ingenuity.
But while social media reaction seemed overwhelmingly positive, and NASCAR clearly received a lot of publicity from Chastain’s manoeuvre, there was a concern about the implications going forward – with some of Chastain’s rivals, like Kyle Larson, disapproving outright and others, like Joey Logano, simply calling for the move to be explicitly prohibited going forward.
And indeed, ahead of the 2023 season, NASCAR made it clear that going forward a repeat of Chastain’s move would carry a penalty.
In announcing the change, during which NASCAR referred to the move as ‘Hail Melon’ – an affectionate combination of the Hail Mary play from American football and Chastain’s background as an eighth-generation watermelon farmer – the governing body said “the move was thrilling and largely lauded for its creativity” but “also came with an increased safety risk”, self-evident from the fact Chastain hurled his car against the barriers and simply hoped against hope it wouldn’t get completely totalled or sent sideways into the pack by an access gate.
But instead of writing in a new rule against it, NASCAR said it will simply point to an existing provision, rule 10.5.2.6.A, which covers “any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others” and reinforces the championship’s authority to deal with such violations “on a case-by-case basis”.
The specific intention, however, is to issue a time penalty for competitors hoping to emulate Chastain.
The announcement has come as part of a raft of changes to the Cup series ahead of the 2023 season, which includes the end of widely unpopular end-of-stage cautions on road course races, the provision for wet-weather tyres to be potentially used at short ovals in addition to road courses and the removal of the requirement for a playoff-eligible driver to be in the top 30 in the points standings in the regular season. Playoff spots in NASCAR are reserved specifically for race winners during the regular season, with points only used as a tiebreaker – although the regular season points leader is guaranteed a place in the playoffs regardless of wins.