Martinsville Speedway has earned a reputation as a “Half Mile of Mayhem”. For NASCAR elimination weekend of October 27-30, 2022 it was maybe just a bit of “trick or treat” for racing mayhem on the track that has so much history.
Let’s be fair. Racing in NASCAR has evolved. The build of the cars, the technology, the safety, the money… It is all a floating combination held together by loose tension and respect that resonates around the garage from track to track. For October of 2022, the setting was there for a “perfect storm” of pushing, rubbing, tapping and all of the tension that puts “mayhem” in Martinsville.
It wasn’t there. Well… It was… A bit. The tension lingered in the background as fans and teams seemed to be expecting something to happen. Halloween weekend as it may have been but the feeling of walking through a “haunted house” expecting a zombie at any moment was a bit how it felt to be at Martinsville.
Everyone expects short track racing to be a slasher film with wrecks and crashes but this weekend at Martinsville, all three races turned out to be more like a suspense thriller. The laps added up. The pressure increased. There may have been a spin or a flat that brought the yellow that released some of the tension. The green dropped and it pushed back up again.
It was this way for all three races. The modified race stacked up and drove over in turn 3 as the white flag waved to checkers. Wheel touches launched one over the other setting the finish win for Corey LaJoie (also racing in the NASCAR Cup series). The turn 3 crash also was also not enough to keep the season championship from points leader Jon McKennedy. The celebration also included the car owner points leader, Tommy Baldwin Racing.
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The Xfinity series racked up just a bit more. Minor cautions mixed with stages kept a lid on it up until the last 50 laps or so. Stage 1 and 2 traded wins with Brandon Jones and Ty Gibbs. A bunch up in turn 4 at lap 220 caught many and bent up some cars. Another contact at lap 234 put Allmendinger back with damage. A 3 wide attempt set the field for overtime.
The final laps were repeated attempts at green, white, checkers. It was a boiling point on the track as Ty Gibbs walled team mate Brandon Jones setting up a win. Gibbs crossed the line as race fans let him have it with rounding of jeers. During presentations, Ty Gibbs did a “WTF did we just see” kind of thing as he doused the famous Martinsville grandfather clock trophy with Monster energy drink.
The Xfinity series “Championship 4” were set with Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs, Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier.
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The jeers continued for Ty Gibbs during introductions for Sunday and the NASCAR Cup Xfinity 500. It was something as it pushed the audio displaeasure for Bubba Wallace (after a suspension for wrecking and fighting Kyle Larson) to the back burner. That is how compressed the weekend finale had gotten by race time.
The Cup race ran mostly incident free. There were a few cautions outside of stage finishes but no real “mayhem”. There was certainly less aggression than the day before. However, the sold out crowd was on edge waiting for something to happen. Their patience paid off…
With a championship position on the line, there was a lot of pressure to race and stay in the race. There were some bumps and position changes but clean racing seemed to be the show. It was that same pressure of the championship that made a last lap move come out of desperation.
Christopher Bell made it by Chase Briscoe for the lead coming out of turn 4 and across with 4 laps to go. Denny Hamlin also got by Briscoe placing the #11 a spot or two above the championship bubble. It was the last lap and it looked all but locked as Bell crossed with the win. Hamlin was in a good spot to advance. That is when Ross Chastain, also in the hunt but behind Hamlin, made a bold move that caught everyone off guard.
Denny Hamlin made the entrance to turn 3 as Chastain was accerlerating out of turn 2. Hamlin was 2 seconds and change in front of Chastain. However, has Hamlin was diving on the brakes to enter turn 3, Chastain was on the gas and shifting into the higher range. As Hamlin was accelerating out of turn four towards the checkers, Chastain was still on the gas and on the wall moving forward like a rocket using the right side of the #1 as a groove to hold on. Chastain came to the line, pushing Brad Keselowski with him, passing Hamlin by a nose to take the position and the championship spot in the advance.
It was brilliant, dangerous, wild, crazy and, by all accounts, should not have worked. Tires could have blown, the catch wall could have given, the car could have bounced and spun, other cars could have been caught up, etc… etc… etc…
But it did work. This time. For that, Ross Chastain joins Christopher Bell, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott for a shot at the 2022 Championship in Phoenix.