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What Ross Chastain did at Martinsville last fall will go down in Cup Series history as one of the slickest moves ever. It’s almost in a class with the fast one NASCAR tried pulling on Tuesday with its truckload of changes to the rules.

By and large, everything NASCAR announced was a step in the right direction. But the decision to wait three months to address Chastain’s maneuver feels calculated to minimize blowback from fans looking forward to seeing other drivers try it.

The package of other NASCAR rule changes is strong

Ross Chastain runs along the wall through Turn 4 on the final lap of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville on Oct. 30, 2022. | Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Ross Chastain runs along the wall through Turn 4 on the final lap of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville on Oct. 30, 2022. | Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s hard to recall the last time NASCAR announced as many changes to non-technical rules as it did on Tuesday. The timing –five days before the Busch Light Clash – made it that much more impactful since fans are fired up about the impending start of the season.

Among the biggest changes are adjustments to the penalties for wheels coming loose following pit stops, the termination of stage breaks for most races on road courses across the three national series, and nailing down the specifics on which tracks can conduct wet-weather racing.

All constitute wins for fans. Applying the choose rule to superspeedways and nuking the top-30 rule for playoff eligibility can’t be considered earth-shattering, but both are understandable as well.

Ross Chastain’s ‘Hail Melon’ has been formally banned

Despite NASCAR’s best effort to the contrary, the change to the rule inspired by Ross Chastain’s wild finish at Martinsville, which propelled him into the following week’s Championship 4, garnered the most attention on Tuesday.

Chastain steered the No. 1 Chevy up against the outside wall on Turns 3 and 4 of the final lap and floored the gas, creating a slingshot effect that pushed him past multiple cars over the final 200 yards. Going forward, however, NASCAR will penalize drivers who attempt a similar move.

Officials said the decision is in the interest of safety, and it’s hard to dispute that there are potential hazards in doing what the first-year Trackhouse Racing driver did. Among them:

  • Grinding against the SAFER barrier runs the risk of throwing debris onto the track.
  • The car itself could conceivably stuff itself into the barrier, jack-knife, and collect other cars in the wreck.
  • And, lest we forget, Chastain tapped the back of Brad Keselowski’s Ford at the finish line. It wasn’t strong enough to move Keselowski off his racing line, but it had the potential to knock him into other traffic.

NASCAR let the issue of Ross Chastain’s ‘Hail Melon’ fester

By its own admission, NASCAR could have banned Ross Chastain’s ‘Hail Melon’ move within days or even hours of it transpiring at Martinsville. In fact, NASCAR could have penalized Chastain on the spot, costing him his place in the Championship 4. Elton Sawyer said as much on Fox’s NASCAR Race Hub on Tuesday.

“It’s not really new language,” said Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior VP of competition. “It’s language that was in the rulebook. And if we see that and deem that as an unsafe maneuver that we would penalize, then that would be a time or lap penalty.”

He was referring to rule, which states, “violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR is clarifying its stance now because doing so in the week between Martinsville and the Championship 4 would have killed the buzz created by Chastain’s audacious gamble. Waiting a few weeks or even a month wouldn’t have sat well with Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing, who were most affected by the drastic swing in points at the end of the race.

So, NASCAR waited until Tuesday, when it could lump the change that isn’t really a change in with other adjustments to its rules. That was almost as clever as Chastain’s maneuver itself.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].