Ross Chastain ripping the wall at Martinsville will go down as a memorable moment in NASCAR history and maybe cause curious football fans to tear themselves away from watching the conclusion of the 2-5 Las Vegas Raiders vs. the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Alas, the overall effect on NFL viewership will be considerably less than the impact Chastain had on Denny Hamlin’s championship ambitions or Rick Hendrick’s wallet.
Hendrick, the owner of the juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports team, had a funny take on how the driver of the No. 1 Chevy affected him. It was funny, in part, because it was true.
Ross Chastain’s bold move will cost Rick Hendrick money
Ross Chastain had come too far this season, scoring his first two career victories in his first year with an upstart team, to come up half a mile short of a berth in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4. Needing to make up at least two positions on Denny Hamlin with the white flag out at Martinsville last Sunday, he put his car on the wall and mashed the gas to blast his way to fourth place and his shot in Phoenix alongside Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, and Joey Logano.
Even among those who think NASCAR should make a rule banning the maneuver, the reaction was close to unanimous: It was the wackiest thing anyone had ever seen, particularly because of the stakes.
“It looked unreal to me because I thought it was speeding up the footage,” Rick Hendrick told reporters on Tuesday. “I thought it was the neatest thing I ever saw until I realized he knocked us out of Chase running for the owners’ championship.”
Hendrick, the owner of the team that includes drivers Elliott and Kyle Larson, the past two series champions, was talking from a dollars-and-cents perspective.
Why a Chase Elliott win could be painful for Rick Hendrick
While fans understandably put their Championship 4 focus on the drivers’ championship that will be settled on Sunday among Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, and Joey Logano, there is a second title on the line. Chastain, Bell, Logano, and Kyle Larson are battling for the owners’ championship.
The reason the owners’ championship is of particular interest to NASCAR figures like Rick Hendrick is that NASCAR parses out season-ending money based on the owners’ standings.
Hendrick’s worst-case scenario from a financial perspective would be for Elliott to win his second drivers’ championship in three seasons and Larson to finish behind at least one of the other Championship 4 competitors. The HMS owner would be on the hook for paying some sizeable bonus money while receiving a smaller NASCAR payout.
“I’m going to be broke,” joked Hendrick, whose net worth is estimated at $1 billion. “No, that’s a great problem to have. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But, yeah, it’s going to be interesting to watch and try to figure out where we are.
“Hey, both guys want to win, and it would be really neat if we could run one-two. But hey, we’re just going to go out and do our best and we’ll see what happens.”
This is an unusual playoff year
Normally, the winning driver in the Championship 4 also clinches the owners’ championship for his team. This year has been different because Kurt Busch bowed out on the eve of the playoffs. When that happened, his No. 45 Toyota remained eligible for the owners’ championship (with Bubba Wallace subbing), and Ryan Blaney squeezed into the field of 16 in the drivers’ championship.
That made it possible for Blaney to continue advancing as a driver without accumulating owners’ points, creating two sets of standings. When we got to Martinsville, the last transfer race, the combination of Christopher Bell’s victory and Chastain’s mad dash left Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy short:
- Bell and Joey Logano won races in the third phase while still in the hunt for the drivers’ championship.
- Larson, eliminated in the round of eight for the drivers’ championship, won the other race in the third playoff phase to continue advancing for the owners’ championship.
- Chastain (4,140 points) edged Elliott (4,138) and Denny Hamlin (4,134) for the final berth.
Elliott will still finish high in the standings, so it’s not a total financial setback to HMS. Asked whether he thought the system needed to be changed, Rick Hendrick said the driver and owner are almost always the same, and this year should be regarded as a fluke.
“I think it’s fine like it is,” he said. “When you saddle up and sign up, you play by the program that’s out there. I don’t think we need to change anything.”
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