Last-lap mayhem shuffles Ross Chastain to Talladega victory

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Exiting Turn 4, Ross Chastain ran third. When he crossed the finish line, he won.

Though he wasn’t sure of it.

“I knew I was coming to the checkered,” he said. “I crossed the line. They were all slowing down. I was like, Did we win? Like, we won? Everybody is slowing down. I was like, We won the race. That’s wild.”

None of it was a dream. Chastain took his second checkered flag of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, Sunday, at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last-lap mayhem shuffles Ross Chastain to Talladega victory

Run to the finish

With one lap to go, Erik Jones held the lead. The top-10 ran single file, while efforts to reform the outside line floundered. Heading down the backstretch, however, Kurt Busch pulled the line up to third.

Chastain locked bumpers with Kyle Larson and Jones. Entering Turn 3, he backed off, drifted up and almost touched Busch. Having learned from experience, he quickly hugged the bottom.

“Coming to the finish, Kurt (Busch) is on my right rear,” he said, “I’m trying to keep whoever, I don’t even know if there was anybody still behind me [it was Austin Dillon], no matter where the car went, the mental decision was not to go to his right rear because I had somebody on my outside, so…”

TALLADEGA, Ala. – APRIL 24: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022, in Talladega, Alabama. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

Chastain wasn’t complacent. He thought pushing the bottom line was his ticket to victory. The momentum and Jones’ huge lead prompted Larson to go high, which put Busch into the wall in the tri-oval.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Jones was a sitting duck. Rather than hug the bottom, which he said he should’ve done in hindsight, he pulled up to block Larson.

“I didn’t realize they were coming with that much speed,” he said.

“But try to defend on (Larson), you’re too far ahead already right here. Obviously a defense on the 5 kind of gives the door to (Chastain).”

As the last-lap wreck ensued, Chastain slipped on by to steal the GEICO 500 victory.

Last-lap mayhem shuffles Ross Chastain to Talladega victory

Smash the melon

TALLADEGA, Ala. – APRIL 24: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022, in Talladega, Alabama. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

After an homage to Michael Waltrip‘s victory at Talladega in 2003 in which he exited the car through the roof hatch, Chastain soaked in the atmosphere of the moment.

“I’m running ear cuffs, noise-canceling ear cuffs, and ear molds,” he said. “I heard them and I felt them. The car was shaking. Then my legs started shaking. My arms were shaking. I took a second, scanned left to right, so like from the start/finish line was in my peripheral, I scanned down to the tri-oval. People were going crazy. It was wild.”

Chastain followed his victory at Circuit of the Americas, climbed atop his car and smashed a watermelon.

The crowd erupted in cheers.

“Yeah, it’s indescribable,” he said. “Like, I don’t have the words, but just the feeling they pumped into me, that I got, was what you dream of. Like that’s what I wanted to do when I first wanted to show watermelons, if I was ever able to win a race, I wanted that feeling. I wanted that reaction. We got that.”

Chastain’s having one hell of a breakout season, with six top-five finishes and two victories. Two more than points leader Chase Elliott and second-place Ryan Blaney.

Whether or not that translates to playoff success, only time will tell.

TOP IMAGE: Sean Gardner/Getty Images