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Deconstructing the Cup Series Finish at Talladega

Everything happened at 190mph in real-time and most everyone wants a mulligan.


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"I just drove straight."

The seas parted for Ross Chastain as the field broke down in front of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet with good fortune taking care of the rest.

Spotter Rick Carelli warned Erik Jones not to get too far ahead of Kyle Larson and Chastain in Turn 4 of the final lap, but the impending damage was done. With a push from Chastain, Larson surged towards the lead but that’s when everything shook apart for everyone.

Larson went high with a block on Kurt Busch, but the move and some slight contact to the right rear from Chastain wrecked the 2003 Cup Series champion who deflected off the wall into teammate Bubba Wallace before collecting William Byron in the melee.

Simultaneously, Jones broke high to block Larson and Busch, and that allowed Chastain to keep the momentum to the start-finish line at the entrance to Turn 1. Chastain says he wasn’t going to move off the bottom so there was ultimately no reason for Larson to have made the move.

Of course, this is all happening in real time at 190 mph, too.

"I was never going up," Chastain said. "I mean, I might have -- it's a blur. Coming to the finish, Kurt is on my right rear, I'm trying to keep whoever, I don't even know if there was anybody still behind me, no matter where the car went, the mental decision was not to go to his right rear because I had somebody on my outside."

Larson thought the push Chastain got from Austin Dillon was going to create energy and momentum to the outside. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this was the first time the reigning Cup Series champion had raced for a superspeedway win.

These tracks haven’t been kind to him over the past decade.

"I got a good push from Ross and kind of let him bait me into going to the top," Larson said. "It's just experience. That's the first time I've had a chance to win a plate race. I should have done some things different on the bottom lane with the move I made rather than the top. I kind of told myself that in my head, but just forgot going to the tri oval."

That was the sentiment of his spotter, Tyler Monn, after the race, too.

"You wait, wait, wait and wait, and you don't know when to start making the move," Monn said. "I know the 43 was out front and we were committed to them the rest of the way. Once we're there, I think the move is still off Turn 4. It was probably a bad move to go up top. We could have faked ‘em out or whatever."

Carelli indeed told Jones about the distance between himself and the pack, and the momentum he had, but Jones conceded that the synapses didn’t fully click in the moment.

"I didn’t realize the bottom was coming with that much momentum," Jones said. "Rick was probably telling me, my spotter, (but) I was in my own world.

"You’re trying to do what you can see, and you’re also trying to listen to him. Obviously, if I would have known that the bottom had that much steam, would have probably stuck with it. … It’s frustrating. You work that hard for 500 miles and it comes down the last few thousand feet. It’s tough."

Meanwhile, Chastain actually believes the race was made much earlier when he was Justin Haley were running nose-to-tail on the bottom inside the top-five. Chastain had considered moving to the top side but was committed to staying on the bottom in front of Haley.


It’s what Haley was going to do and it’s won him several superspeedway races before, and some at Chastain’s expense.

"I've made the mistake, I don't want to say I let him, but I made the mistake several times in Xfinity cars where I had track position on him, and equal cars, I moved up or made a move, he went on to win the race," Chastain said.

"I knew he would stay on the bottom. He won so many races that way. If he pushed me and I pushed (Larson), we'd have the best shot. Make the bottom the best it could be."

Chastain was asked if the win was a matter of patience or complacency, but it was just a commitment to that method of running the bottom.

"I thought my best chance of winning was to just push the bottom," Chastain said. "That was wrong because (Jones) still cleared all of us, but still I thought it was going to put me in the best position to win. … It's hard. It's so hard every split-second decision has to be quick, but also you have to be able to live with the consequences of it."

The consequences was probably going to be a third place finish but the seas parted in his favor.