NASCAR: Ross Chastain wins Talladega at the checkered flag

·5 min read

TALLADEGA, Ala. – It’s not often in life where the best thing to do is nothing at all, but doing nothing worked out perfectly for Ross Chastain on Sunday at Talladega.

Chastain spent most of the race lurking just off the lead, but when the field descended into chaos in the final yards before the finish line, he simply held his line … and ended up with a victory.

"Holy cow," Chastain said after the victory. "I'm always the one going to the top too early, making the mistake. There at the end it was like eight to go, I was like, I'm not going up there again. I did that a couple times today. I was like, I'll just ride on the bottom."

That turned out to be exactly the right call.

The Talladega victory is Chastain’s second career win, and his second this season, after a victory at the Circuit of the Americas several weeks ago. He celebrated the victory with what’s become his signature – a smashed watermelon, a symbol of his family’s eight generations of watermelon farming – then had to wait to change the tires he blew out during his victory burnout.

Chastain focuses on racing a whole lot more than on literature; he told The Athletic earlier this year that he’s read only two books as an adult. One of those was “It Takes What It Takes,” by the late Trevor Moawad, a onetime life coach for Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson. The book’s message is one of neutrality: keeping both cynicism and exuberance at bay and sticking to a single, middle path. It’s steadied him as a person, and on Sunday, it helped steady him through a wild final lap.

In the final turn of the race, Chastain was running third, behind Erik Jones and Kyle Larson. Kurt Busch had edged up beside him, and Austin Dillon was pushing him. As Larson pulled out from behind Jones to attempt a pass for the lead, Busch clipped Larson’s right rear and knifed toward the wall. Jones moved up in a too-late attempt to block Larson, leaving the way clear for Chastain to cruise right to the checkered flag and victory lane.

As Chastain, standing amid the shards of the broken watermelon, basked in the cheers of Talladega fans, his competitors lamented the chance they'd lost.

"I feel like I did a pretty near perfect job for me at a superspeedway until the last lap there," Larson said. "I should have, like, I think just kind of faked going high, then went back low. I had that run ... I felt like I did a good job with patience and stuff. Made one small mistake there and it cost me the win."

"Looking back, I wish I would have stayed at the bottom and let the 1 [Chastain] push me. I didn't realize they were coming with that much speed," Jones said. "But try to defend on the 5 [Larson], you're too far ahead already right here. Obviously a defense on the 5 kind of gives the door to the 1."

The Cup Series’ first 2022 visit to NASCAR’s largest track began with a long, well-orchestrated pack of nearly every car in the field. The key early wreck came on lap 90, when Joey Logano spun off a push from Bubba Wallace. Logano hit the outside wall and curled right back into the pack. The wreck collected Austin Cindric, Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Daniel Suarez, ending the days of many.

During the final pit stop of the day, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell tried to occupy the same space coming off pit road, and Bell ended up on the losing end of that deal:

Chastain's victory is the latest in a run of good luck for Trackhouse Racing, the team formed from the ground up in 2021 by longtime racing team owner Justin Marks and singer Pitbull. After a 2021 season in which Trackhouse's top finish was Daniel Suarez's seventh-place finish at Nashville, the team added Chastain when acquiring the remains of Chip Ganassi Racing. Chastain's success has vaulted the team to enough prominence that Trackhouse added multiple sponsors to flesh out most of the slate for 2022 and 2023.

Talladega stands as one of NASCAR's preeminent tracks, and the fact that Chastain has led Trackhouse Racing to an early victory at this iconic locale wasn't lost on Marks.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 24: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning  the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 24: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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