Ross Chastain found his way to the front and was in the lead at the right time, coming to the checkered flag at Talladega. He won NASCAR’s GEICO 500 race, finishing 0.105 seconds ahead of second place finisher Austin Dillon.
Chastain was racing in third behind Erik Jones and Kyle Larson on the final lap, but Larson moved to the outside to try to pass leader Jones as Chastain found space underneath them both.
Jones moved to block Larson, but wiggled after getting clipped. He dropped to a sixth place finish as Chastain zipped to his second victory of the season running three-wide at the flag. He smashed a watermelon from atop his No. 1 Chevrolet, a signature celebration for a win by the melon farmer.
“With eight (laps) to go, I was like, ‘No I’m not going up (to the top) there. I’ll just ride the bottom. I’m not going to lose the race for us,’” Chastain said on FOX.
He stayed low and held his line for his second win in the last five races. His first victory with his Trackhouse Racing team came on a road course at Circuit of the Americas. Chastain raced the same chassis on Sunday at the superspeedway that he raced for his earlier COTA victory this year, highlighting the versatility of the Next Gen car.
“In a month you can bring a car back that won on a road course and you can win at Talladega?” Chastain said. “That hasn’t happened since the ‘60s. I don’t know, farther back ... so, it’s wild.”
Win so close for Erik Jones, Kyle Larson
While it was a boon for Chastain, the finish was a tough blow for Jones, who was so close to winning his first race of the year and first with his Petty GMS team. Jones’ last victory was in 2019.
“I felt pretty good, but that top line was getting momentum,” Jones said. “Looking back, I wish I’d stayed on the bottom. I tried to defend the 5 (Larson). It is what it is, just trying to win the race.”
Larson, the defending Cup champion, also put on a strong performance at a superspeedway track where he said he’s typically struggled.
He crashed out of races at Atlanta and at the Daytona 500 earlier this season, and last finished 37th at Talladega prior to the latest race. Larson said that he thought that he executed a “near perfect” job for himself until the last lap.
“I should have, I think, just kind of faked going high, then went back low. I had that run,” Larson said. “Ross helped me with that run. It kind of baited me into going to the outside. Just a little inexperience probably there.”
“Honestly, (this is) the first time I’ve had a legit shot at winning a plate race in the Cup Series,” Larson continued. “Happy about that. When you’re close, I was in the exact position I wanted to be in. I didn’t want to be leading. I felt like I did a good job with patience and stuff. Made one small mistake there and it cost me the win.”
Larson led the second-most laps (32) behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, who led 38. The Chevrolets drivers seemed to fare better than some other typically strong superspeedway racers, Ford driver Joey Logano and Toyota racer Denny Hamlin.
No “Big One”?
Logano was caught up in the biggest wreck of the afternoon, until cars collected at the flag. There was only one mid-race “Big One” that was really more of a “Small One,” with just nine cars involved in that accident at the track that typically produces double-digits car casualties.
Logano collected multiple cars after spinning from the third row on a restart in Stage 2. He was hooked by Stage 1 winner Bubba Wallace and sailed into the outside wall, catching Ford teammates Harrison Burton and Austin Cindric, among others, in his wake.
Logano exited his car and was resigned to the result, telling reporters that, “It’s superspeedway racing, It happens.”
“Every time we come to one of these things, cars crash,” Logano said. “And they’re gonna crash a lot more before the end of this thing and hopefully everyone’s OK and gets out alright.”
But the race ran relatively crash-free to the end. In fact, Hamlin’s team was hoping for more cautions by the final stage when they were running low on fuel. But those never came, and Hamlin pitted within the final five laps from a top 10 position.
He finished 18th, just behind his 23XI Racing drivers Wallace (17th) and Kurt Busch (16th), who suffered hard hits at the end of the race. Both drivers exited their cars and were later released from the infield care center.
The next Cup Series race is Sunday, May 1st at Dover Motor Speedway.
NASCAR at Talladega race results