Talladega Superspeedway often serves as the wildest, most unpredictable track on the NASCAR schedule. So, imagine Ross Chastain's surprise when he won this chaotic race in the most boring way possible.
Chastain held his line on the inside, in third place coming off the final turn of Sunday's GEICO 500. In front of him were Kyle Larson and Erik Jones jostling for the win amongst themselves. As Larson had a run up the track, Jones went up to block and suddenly, about three lanes of racetrack opened up for Chastain.
"They kept moving up!" he exclaimed in victory lane. "They just kept moving out of the way!"
As the duo scrubbed off speed, Chastain easily moved ahead to score his second career victory and first at Talladega. It was the second straight week the Cup Series winner led only the final lap of the race.
"I was like, I'll just ride on the bottom," he explained. "If it works, I'm not going to lose the race for us, I'll just let them."
It was an impressive comeback for Chastain after falling a lap down early due to a speeding penalty. Biding his time, he watched other teams rise and fall around him while getting that lap back. Hendrick Motorsports finished 1-2-3 in Stage 2, seemingly unstoppable until pit strategy split them up for the final stage.
Then, it was Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney's turn. The best buds got themselves 1-2, winners of three of the past six Talladega events. But once again, slow times off pit road bit them both, leaving each too far back down the stretch in a pack race where side-by-side excitement masked how difficult it was to gain momentum inside the draft.
"You can't pass anybody here anymore," lamented Blaney, who wound up 11th. "It is hard to pass everywhere but it is the same thing at speedways now. You can't really make a third lane [to move up quicker]. I don't know what the problem is."
Chastain doesn't much care. He's too busy racking up trophies for a Trackhouse Racing Team that has more wins through the first 10 races this season than multi-car giants Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing.
"It's like we're not an underdog in the sense that I feel like we can go on any weekend and win," said Trackhouse owner Justin Marks Sunday. "I do believe that Trackhouse is here to stay, we've arrived, and what we're doing is investing a lot of money, time and resources into establishing ourselves as a championship-contending team for decades to come."
Who would have thought? And this time, Chastain scored the victory by utilizing a trait he's not well known for. Did one of the sport's most aggressive drivers exhibit, ahem… patience?
"[Ross] is now comfortable in his job and skin, understands and knows this team is being built around him," added Marks. "He can take a breath, be more calculated, not try to get it all right now in this moment.
"I think at a place like Talladega, there's equity in that. You have to be really intelligent and cerebral about how you approach the end of these races. He just did a perfect job today."
Green: Chevrolet. Out to lunch at Daytona, this manufacturer went back to the drawing board and came out swinging at this track type. The Bowtie Brigade led 125 of 188 laps, took six of the top nine spots and showcased teamwork from its premier team, Hendrick Motorsports, all the way down the list. Even drivers like Austin Dillon (second) and Erik Jones (sixth) wound up surprise success stories in a year where the Next Gen is producing parity.
Yellow: Bubba Wallace. 15 laps led Sunday equaled the amount Wallace had led this year leading into Talladega; a stage win showcased his ability to run up front. But you want to leave the track with momentum, and last fall's race winner didn't after a poor stop and some late-race desperation moves left him pancaked into the outside wall off the final turn. 17th doesn't cut it for Michael Jordan over the long-term.
Red: Kyle Busch. Busch's last two Cup Series finishes are a win and a third. So why are red flags popping up all over the place at the No. 18 camp? Maybe because Busch opened up about his frustration this weekend over not having a contract extension or a primary sponsor Both the owner himself and the manufacturer offered quick denials anything was wrong, with president of Toyota Racing Development David Wilson claiming he was "a little disappointed" in Kyle Busch but "we have a place for him as long as he wants to stay." Stay tuned..
Speeding Ticket: Brad Keselowski. This one's an actual speeding penalty as Keselowski was docked not once, but twice under green flag conditions on pit road. The costly errors left the active leader in race wins at Talladega off the lead lap and out of contention down the stretch (23rd). Just another in a long line of missteps for the newly minted driver/owner in recent weeks,.
Talladega is known for The Big One, an unavoidable crash that wipes out a large portion of what's often a 40-car pack superglued together.
This year's edition occurred on a restart before the field was fully up to speed. Martin Truex Jr. appeared to check up as cars jostled in front of him, stacking up the outside line. Bubba Wallace then mishit Joey Logano's bumper, sending the No. 22 Ford sailing into the outside wall and then back into oncoming traffic. Chaos ensued, wiping out about a half-dozen cars in the incident.
It's the third DNF in the last four races for Logano here, including a wreck that left him flipping onto his roof last year. It left him in the seemingly annual position of being the veteran driver speaking out against Talladega's style of racing, one where luck plays a big role in keeping you from smacking the outside wall.
It's superspeedway racing," he said afterward. "Every time we come to one of these things, cars crash … they suck. I don't think drivers enjoy it. The fans enjoy it, so that's good, but I don't think there's many drivers who look forward to it right now."