Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was not happy or excited about Ross Chastain’s wall-riding video game-style move to secure a spot into the Championship 4 field. Instead, Larson felt embarrassed by the move.
And Larson is qualified to weigh in on Chastain’s move as he attempted a similar move at Darlington Raceway last season in a battle for the win with Denny Hamlin. Ultimately, Larson’s attempt at the move did not pan out, but he says he was embarrassed by making the decision to make that move himself, and his feelings are no different this time around.
“I was a bit, I don’t know, embarrassed that I did it because that was pretty embarrassing, honestly,” Larson explained. “I think that’s not a good look for our sport, at all. I don’t know what you guys think, you probably think it’s cool. But I think it’s pretty embarrassing.”
When asked why he didn’t think it was a good look for the sport, Larson lashed back by saying, “Why do you think it’s a good look?”
Larson feels that the wall-riding technique that Chastain utilized to turn an 18.845 second lap on the final lap of the race, which was more than a second faster than any other lap turned in Sunday’s race, is worse than cutting a course at a road course.
“I don’t know if NASCAR will make a call. Who knows? That’s worse than cutting the course in my opinion. Or it should be handled as if you cut the course. I mean, he gained all sorts of time,” Larson said.
For Larson, who visited the F1 race at Abu Dhabi last season, and was reportedly hardly noticed at the race by anyone, he feels this is another moment that makes NASCAR the butt of the joke for enthusiasts and competitors of other forms of Motorsport.
“I mean, yes, but you could argue the wall is the track limit, but again, yes people will show it on replays, but Formula 1 is much larger than we are and I bet a lot of their fans watching that, and most competitors are going to say, ‘Well, that was NASCAR,’ another bad look, I think,” Larson sharply pointed.
At the end of the day, Larson feels that Chastain’s move in the Championship 4 cutoff race was an unfair way to advance to the Championship race. And when Larson factors in that Chastain knocked out his biggest rival — Denny Hamlin — with the move, that Chastain doesn’t stand much of a chance of winning at Phoenix.
“I don’t believe that was the fairest way to make it into the Championship round,” Larson said. “I feel like he stole that from someone else more deserving, who didn’t do that. I’d be surprised, I think it kicked out the [Hamlin], so I’d be surprised if Ross makes it very far in the race on Sunday.”
While Larson was very outspoken about the move and how he disliked it happening and disliked, even more, the fact that it worked, Ryan Blaney, who was eliminated from Championship contention on Sunday agrees that the move Chastain made has no place in the sport going forward.
“Yeah, I don’t think it makes us look very good. I think it makes us look like — I don’t know. What keeps anybody from doing that from now on anywhere, you know,” Blaney questioned. “If you can make up two seconds, everyone is going to start doing it, I guess. I don’t think it’s a very good look for the sport. He did it, got him into the Championship 4, it’s good for him. But I don’t think that needs to be a recurring thing.”
While Larson and Blaney were among the most outspoken against Chastain’s move, other drivers including Chase Briscoe concluded that it was a well-executed move by Chastain, which is within the current rules of the sport.
But Briscoe and others agree that something needs to be done, or everyone will be attempting the move in future races.
“Well executed on his part,” Briscoe admitted. “I think all of us have thought about [doing] that, but none of us have ever been brave enough to try it. I’m very curious to see what kind of hole that opens up, because, if it’s the last lap at Martinsville maybe even Richmond, just go wide open on the wall and you’ll see the whole field do it if it’s that big of an advantage.”
Denny Hamlin, Chastain’s biggest rival who was knocked out of the Playoffs with the move refused to comment on the move other than to say that there was nothing more he could have done to block it from happening.
Chastain will join Christopher Bell, who won the race at Martinsville, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott in the Championship 4 in next weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway.