By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
As the Cup Series pack piled into Turn 1 on Sunday’s final restart from the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, cars pointed in every known direction by the time they exited the tricky two-corner section.
For Ross Chastain, the driver had a decision to make as the fourth driver on the scene: Drive through the grass, or take the access road, which is an “escape path” given to drivers if they miss Turn 1’s infamously difficult braking zone.
Chastain, who was confident in his understanding of NASCAR‘s course-cutting protocol, chose the access road. And following a fierce-but-clean battle with race-winner Tyler Reddick in the ensuing lap, a second-place for Chastain turned into a 27th after the Trackhouse Racing driver was handed a 30-second time penalty for the move.
“I was turning in and I realized there was no way we were making it,” Chastain said. “I just decided to get out of the way and take the access lane. If I misunderstood the rule, I had not thought about that before Turn 1. I realized there’s no way we’re making Turn 1, I can’t turn in, I’m going to be in the grass. So, I took the alternative, which they give us here.”
Though there’s confusion from Chastain on this instance of the ruling, he respects NASCAR’s decision and believes it was necessary in avoiding contact and contending for the win.
“I know that Miller, O’Donnell and Phelps are going to look at it,” he said of the NASCAR leadership board of Sr. VP of Competition Scott Miller, Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell and president Steve Phelps. “It’s their call, right? It’s their sandbox, so if they say we have a penalty, we have a penalty. I thought I knew the rule and I thought I abided by the rule.
“I didn’t do it maliciously, I didn’t do it preemptively, we didn’t plan for that. With three cars to my right and everybody running into each other, and I was turning in, I couldn’t see how we could make it.”
Until the controversial moment in overtime, Chastain was looking to cap off a comeback in Indy. The No. 1 made contact early in the 86-lapper and had to repair damage in order to work his way through the field.
“I wrecked Joey Hand in the No. 15 car early in the race,” he admitted. “I just over-shot Turn 1. Completely my fault. From there, we were a lap down, fixed the damage and came back to put ourselves in position to be in the first two rows on the final restart, which is all you can ask for.
“We had a fast car. I feel we could compete and run with Tyler [Reddick] if I would have qualified up there. I just put us back too far too early.
“You saw the No. 8 was the class of the field. I was going to race him really clean, and he raced me really clean. He had better tires, better car, better driver. Between those three things, I did everything I could.”