TALLADEGA, Ala. – Ross Chastain reviewed his situation on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway and decided his best strategy was to stay where he was and not move for the win.
This put him on the path to victory.
Chastain stole the win on Sunday when leader Erik Jones pulled away to defensively block defending NASCAR champion Kyle Larson. He cleared the way for Chastain, who pointed his Chevy straight past Jones and earned his second career Cup victory.
“Holy shit! We didn’t do anything! We just stayed there!” Chastain shouted on his radio.
The race was controlled by Jones on the final lap, and he knew Larson would make a move for the win. Larson waited for them to come out of the final corner and, in hindsight, Jones said he should have let him go and stayed put with Chastain on his bumper.
“Looking back, I wish I’d stayed at the bottom and let (Chastain) push me,” Jones said. “It is what it is. You’re just trying to win the race. You can only see what’s going on from the seat. You’re trying to make the best decision possible over the last 1,500 feet.”
Chastain, who won his first career Cup last month at the Circuit of the Americas road course, won for the second time in five races. This was his first on a superspeedway, where he said he was usually the driver who made the wrong moves.
“I’m always the one who gets to the top early and makes the mistake and there at the end there was eight to go, and I was like, ‘I’m not going back up there,'” Chastain said. “I’ve done it a couple of times, I was like, ‘I’m just going to roll on the bottom. I’m not going to lose the race for us.
“I have no idea. They just kept going up. They just kept getting out of the way.”
Florida’s eighth-generation watermelon cultivator exited his winning TrackHouse Racing entry through the open roof flaps — like a sunroof — and smashed a watermelon off the roof of the Chevy in celebration.
Chastain also bit into a piece of watermelon he picked up off the ground, but this time asked Fox Sports if any seeds got stuck in his beard. He did his entire live TV interview after his victory in Texas last month with a bit of watermelon rind stuck to his face.
The winning car was the same Chevrolet that Chastain drove to victory on a road course a month ago, but NASCAR’s new Next Gen model makes it easily adaptable to different circuits on the schedule. The car is also more durable than previous models, reducing precautions, even at Talladega crash-fest. The whole of Sunday’s third leg went by without warning.
Chastain and William Byron are the only multiple race winners out of 10 Cup events – a quarter of the season. He is solidly committed to the playoffs with TrackHouse, a sophomore team owned by former driver Justin Marks and Pitbull.
Chastain, in his first season with TrackHouse, had never imagined so much success from the start.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve destroyed myself so many times and gotten myself into it with guys,” Chastain said. “Justin Marks and what he has planned for us was ambitious. I didn’t know what to expect except that I knew I had my group from last year. (The sponsors) believe in We started the year with a lot of races open (for funding) We’re almost sold out now, and that’s thanks to the vision of Justin Marks.
“We won, man!”
Austin Dillon was second for Richard Childress Racing in a 1-2 sweep for Chevrolet, while Kyle Busch was third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Larson finished fourth for Hendrick Motorsports, followed by JGR driver Martin Truex Jr. and finally Jones, who fell all the way to sixth trying to salvage the win. Michael McDowell, eighth, was the highest ranked Ford.
“It’s typical here. I’ve been near here so many times,” Jones said.
Larson was also disappointed, believing Sunday was the first time he had been in contention to win at a superspeedway.
“Honestly, the first time I had a legitimate chance to win a plate race in the Cup series, I’m so happy about it,” Larson said. “But when you’re so close – and I was in the exact position I wanted to be in, I didn’t want to lead – I feel like I’ve done a good job with patience and stuff. I just made a little mistake there and it cost me one.”
Roger Penske was on the track looking for a second victory at Team Penske’s superspeedway this season, but saw three of his cars recovered in a single accident.
Joey Logano was in the third row during a restart on Stage 2 and wasn’t even at full speed when Bubba Wallace ran him off the line and into the outside wall. Logano’s car then returned to the field and his teammates Austin Cindric, the Daytona 500 winner, and Harrison Burton, who drives for Penske affiliate The Wood Brothers, were among those picked up from the eight-car crash.
The accident actually brought together five of the 16 Ford drivers in the race, and an earlier accident knocked out two more when Chase Briscoe and Chris Buescher were eliminated. The Ford Group was the most organized builder in the season-opening Daytona 500 and used their strategy to get Cindric into the winning lane.
It was the third time in the last four races at Talladega that Logano had crashed, and it was his first DNF of the season.
“You get pushed from behind. You push the car in front. You can’t do anything, and it was me who was taken out,” Logano said. “It stinks. It’s Talladega. I don’t know, some people love it. I can’t say yes.”
The Cup Series races next Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Delaware. Alex Bowman is the defending race winner.