So often at Talladega, the race is just beginning as the field comes off Turn 4 for the final land rush into the tri-oval and towards the start/finish line. And Sunday, that land rush ended with a watermelon getting chucked in a smashing finish.
After coming off Turn 4 in third spot, Ross Chastain was able to sneak to the inside as Erik Jones and Kyle Larson preoccupied each other racing for the win, allowing Chastain to take the lead in the tri-oval and drive back to the start/finish line to take his second win of 2022 and the second of his career. Chastain beat Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, and the rest of the lead pack in another frantic ending to a 500-mile race at Talladega.
GEICO 500 unofficial results
- #1 - Ross Chastain
- #3 - Austin Dillon
- #18 - Kyle Busch
- #5 - Kyle Larson
- #19 - Martin Truex Jr.
- #43 - Erik Jones
- #9- Chase Elliott
- #34 - Michael McDowell
- #48 - Alex Bowman
- #4 - Kevin Harvick
True to his driving style and reputation, Ross Chastain drove an aggressive and spirited race throughout 188 laps. But in an ironic twist, Chastain only needed to be passive to win as the seas parted in front of him.
"I'm always the one going to the top too early and making the mistake. There at the end it was like eight to go, and I was like 'I'm not going up there again ... I'll just ride on the bottom. I'm not gonna lose the race for us,'" Chastain told Fox Sports. "... I have no idea. They kept going up, and they just kept moving out of the way!"
Here are some more takeaways from the GEICO 500 and another win for Ross Chastain.
When the field left Turn 4 for the final time, it looked as though Erik Jones might deliver Richard Petty's No. 43 its first win since 2014 and its first at Talladega since Petty himself drove it to Victory Lane in 1983. Then came a decision that Jones will have to live with, and is already second-guessing.
As Kyle Larson backed up from Jones' bumper in order to get a run on him in the draft, Jones opted to play defense when Larson made his move to the outside, swinging up high in an effort to block Larson and protect the lead. But in doing so, Jones opened the bottom up for Ross Chastain, who scooted through as Jones got swallowed up by the lead pack and finished sixth.
For Jones and Petty GMS Motorsports, the final thousand or so yards of the race amounted to a major missed opportunity -- one that could have put the Petty name back in Victory Lane, and one that could have snapped a winless streak for Jones dating back to 2019.
"Looking back, I wish we would have stayed on the bottom and let the No. 1 push me. I didn't realize they were coming with that much speed," Jones told Fox Sports. "Try to defend on the No. 5, you're too far ahead already ... Obviously a defense on the No. 5 kind of gives the door to the No. 1.
"It is what it is. You're trying to just win the race. You can only see so much of what's going on from the seat, and you're trying to make the best decision you can in the last 1500 feet."
Oddly enough, the finish to Sunday's race resembled one of the most notorious in the history of the Speedway. In 1981, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte ran each other up high racing each other for the win, allowing underdog Ron Bouchard to sneak by on the inside and score the first and only victory of his Cup career.
In the past several years, superspeedway races have evolved from ones that rely on agreements among drivers to work with each other in the draft to edicts from manufacturers for all of their cars to line up and run with each other. However, Sunday saw a scrambling of the field across automaker loyalties, which made for quite an omelet.
While the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets were able to coordinate with each other to take the win in Stage 2, and the Fords and Toyotas generally tried to work with each other when they could, Sunday saw drivers throughout the field not necessarily be choosy about who their friends were and where they found them. Some drivers turned to personal friends, such as when old friends Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace hooked up to go to the front. Others simply found who they were running with as they both tried to advance through the field and also peeled off for green flag stops throughout the day.
Part of the reason why that occurred was due to a thinned-out field throughout the second half of the race, as the running order was shaken up by the most major accident of the day near the halfway point.
Logano laid low
Normally, 'The Big One' at Talladega occurs within the controlled chaos of a snarling pack at speeds nearing 200 MPH. This time, though, it happened at a notably slower speed.
On a restart at Lap 90, an accordion effect in the outside line as Martin Truex Jr. backed up to his drafting help resulted in Joey Logano getting turned into the outside wall, shooting him back into traffic just as the field was starting to get up to speed. The end result was nearly a dozen cars crashed in Turn 1, with Logano being the most notable victim left to lament the nature of superspeedway racing.
"It stinks. It's Talladega. I don't know. Some people love it -- I can't say I do," Logano told Fox Sports. "It seems like it just happens a lot for us on these tracks. We run up front and something happens."
While Logano crashed out of Talladega's spring race for the second year in a row, he'll likely take his exit Sunday over his more spectacular one last year. Unlike last year, Logano was able to keep his car on all four wheels and solid ground.
From the finishing order
- On a weekend where a black No. 3 Chevrolet from the Richard Childress Racing stable driven by an Earnhardt finished second in Saturday's Xfinity race, Austin Dillon was not to be outdone. Dillon came home in second, matching his best finish of the season and earning his third top-3 finish in the past three races.
- On the surface, Kyle Larson's fourth-place finish marked just another top five for the defending Cup champion. But it was notable given Larson's track record and general lack of luck and success on superspeedways. Larson's top-5 on Sunday was his first ever at either Daytona or Talladega.
- Mr. Superspeedway did it again, as Michael McDowell found the top 10 by the finish and crossed the line in eighth. After a slump following a top 10 finish in the Daytona 500, McDowell now has two top 10 finishes in a row.
- Though he slid and spun across the finish line, Corey LaJoie finished 14th to score his second top-20 in a row and his first top-15 since scoring three in the first five races of the season. After struggling in several races without crew chief Ryan Sparks, LaJoie's season looks like it's back on track.
- Bubba Wallace ran at the front all day and led 15 laps, and looked headed for at least his first top-10 since the Daytona 500 entering the tri-oval. Instead, he was clipped by teammate Kurt Busch, sending him head-on and hard into the outside wall. Wallace remains mired in a string of finishes not indicative of where he or his race team have run.
- William Byron also got caught up in the chaos of the final trip through the tri-oval, spoiling a day where he led a race-high 38 laps. Byron led the way as Chevrolet cars led 125 of 188 laps, but finished 15th after crashing in the final few yards.
The NASCAR Cup Series moves on to another racetrack with a notorious streak next week, as they head to The Monster Mile for the DuraMAX Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway.