NASCAR Had No Real Choice But to Ban Ross Chastain’s Widely Applauded ‘Hail Melon’ Move
The “Hail Melon” — as Ross Chastain’s video-game style move last fall at Martinsville Speedway was widely proclaimed — is in the ash heap of history.
NASCAR announced earlier this week that a pass like the oh-so-popular one executed by the eighth-generation watermelon farmer turned Cup Series superstar in October’s Round of 8 elimination race is no longer considered legal, effective with the start of the 2023 Cup season.
As much as many fans loathe the ruling and are inevitably accusing NASCAR of being quenchers of all things fun and exciting, the sanctioning body actually made the right call in this instance. And not just for one reason.
Ross Chastain’s ‘Hail Melon’ was too dangerous for NASCAR to risk a repeat
While Ross Chastain’s go-for-broke maneuver in turns 3 and 4 on the final lap at Martinsville left even some of his fiercest rivals in awe of what they’d just witnessed, the move actually came at great risk. And not just for Chastain.
Imagine if another car had been directly in this path when he kept his foot on the gas and zoomed past five cars on the outside of turns 3 and 4. Compared to all the cars around him, Chastain’s No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet looked like it had been shot out of a cannon, so the result wouldn’t have been pretty had Chastain run into anyone.
In fact, given the fragility of the Next Generation Cup Series car that its debut season exposed, someone might’ve even ended up seriously hurt if they had been in Chastain’s way and he had plowed into them from behind when he came zipping past at roughly 35 miles per hour faster than everyone else.
Not only this, but Martinsville has a pedestrian crossover gate in turns 3 and 4 that was in close proximity to where Chastain quite literally put his best foot forward. Consider for just a moment what may have transpired if Chastain had knocked that gate ajar. Anyone standing on the other side most likely would not have survived. What was initially thought to be the baddest, boldest, most off-the-chain move in NASCAR history could’ve culminated in a tragedy.
NASCAR simply can’t afford injuries — or worse — to its drivers and spectators if it’s possible to avoid such outcomes. In the case of the “Hail Melon,” it was a made-for-TV moment that fans will still be talking about in 50 years, and it ultimately allowed Chastain to accomplish his goal of gaining enough positions in the final turn to qualify for the Championship 4.
But the move was in no way safe. Not for Chastain. Not for the drivers around him. Not for fans potentially standing on the other side of the gate. Not for anyone. But safety concerns aren’t the only reason the “Hail Melon” had to go.
The ‘Hail Melon’ captured our imagination but stretched the definition of ‘racing’ too far
Is it really racing when a driver holds his foot to the gas pedal in the middle of a corner, never bothers tapping the brakes, and bangs off the outside wall multiple times, all with the intent of trying to pick off as many cars as possible?
Bold and clever and unconventional as Ross Chastain’s move at Martinsville might’ve been, no even remotely reasonable person could consider it real racing. This was the kind of Houdini act that should be reserved for magic shows, not live professional sporting events of significant consequence like the Round of 8 playoff elimination race at Martinsville.
Had Chastain not opted to put his Superman cape on and pretended to be a daredevil, he would have missed the Championship 4, and archrival Denny Hamlin would’ve made it.
It’s pretty sad now to think that Hamlin’s championship fate was sealed by an action that NASCAR outlawed less than three months later. Hamlin, to his credit, didn’t criticize Chastain during his post-race interviews, but he had every reason to be upset when considering how far Chastain pushed the boundaries of what NASCAR would consider acceptable.
Rather than doing his best Evel Knievel impersonation, Chastain should’ve tried to make the Championship Round with a legit racing move instead of turning one of the season’s most important races into a clown show.
If Chastain wanted to drive like this, he should’ve gone down to his local Saturday night short track and jumped in a Late Model or a modified. But deliberately running into the wall multiple times so you can advance your position and be one of four drivers who compete for the championship?
That’s a bit much, and it stretched the definition of “racing” too far for comfort. Thankfully, NASCAR had the foresight this week to shut down the “Hail Melon.” Otherwise, this move would’ve inevitably been repeated over and over again in future seasons.
Can you imagine a race where the top 15 or 20 cars all run flat-out through the final turn on the final lap in hopes of gaining a few spots? Talk about a disaster. NASCAR had no choice but to put a stop to the “Hail Melon” — or else risk this becoming a commonplace maneuver that happens on a regular basis.
So to all the fans and others out there who wish NASCAR had left the “Hail Melon” live on, take heart. The reality is that the move will live on — but it’ll be in replays and maybe in a museum, as opposed to during live race action. And that’s just the way it has to be.