Who… should you be talking about after the race?
Races at Talladega Superspeedway are both the most predictable on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule (not much action for most of the race and a couple big wrecks, usually including one on the last lap) and the most difficult to predict the winner. This week’s race was no different, with Ross Chastain leading only a few yards to win Sunday’s (April 24) GEICO 500 as chaos erupted around him.
Chastain took his Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet to victory lane for the second time in 2022, becoming the second driver to post multiple wins this year. He’s shown that in the right equipment, he’s the real deal, to the point where he’s not just playoff-bound but an early favorite for the title fight as NASCAR’s youth movement scored another tally in the win column.
And don’t forget… Erik Jones. If not for one understandable mistake when he moved to block a move by Kyle Larson instead of holding his line, Jones might have been the winner. Larson killed his own momentum and Chastain didn’t follow the No. 5, so for Jones, staying the course would have been a winning move. The 25-year-old certainly made his presence known, though. The No. 43 has shown flashes of brilliance this year and Jones still scored a top 10 Sunday, his third of 2022. That’s already half of his 2021 total just 10 races in. Petty GMS Motorsports might not be racing for wins each week, but he’s definitely moving his team forward.
What… is the buzz about?
Will he stay or will he go? Kyle Busch was anything but forthright about his future with Joe Gibbs Racing following the departure of longtime sponsor Mars at the end of this season. He was flippant with his words Saturday, saying “If it happens, it happens. If it don’t, it don’t. Goodbye.”
Gibbs didn’t indicate that the situation was dire, stating simply that negotiations were ongoing. But JGR has three potential drivers who are free agents after 2022: Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell. Plus, with Ty Gibbs in the wings, ready or not, something has to give.
It’s possible that Truex, who has the most loyal backing in Bass Pro Shops, could retire or re-sign for one year while the younger Gibbs gets another year in the Xfinity Series under his belt. Indeed, that’s the most likely scenario. It’s unlikely that sponsorship would not materialize for two-time champion Busch, who will only be 37 at the end of the year. And Bell, at just 27, has so many years ahead it would be a rash move to let him go.
The comments, though? Just Kyle Busch being Kyle Busch. Probably much ado over nothing. That said, keep an eye on Silly Season just the same because you never know…
Where… did the other key players wind up?
Polesitter Bell led the Toyota charge in qualifying but wasn’t stout enough to keep the lead for long. Still, he worked with his teammates when he could right up until the final round of green flag pit stops when he tangled with Kyle Busch exiting his pit. Bell got the short end of that stick as the caution didn’t fly and he lost a lap following the spin. The No. 20 Toyota finished a lap down in 22nd.
Fall 2021 Talladega winner Bubba Wallace won stage one and looked like a contender all day. He got trapped midpack in the closing laps, though, and took the biggest of the lumps in the last-lap dustup. Wallace walked away but took a hit hard enough to knock the wind out of him and finished 17th for his troubles. He’s become one of those drivers who’s always going to be a factor at the superspeedways, but this time, luck wasn’t on his side.
Active Talladega win leader Brad Keselowski lost a lap early after a pit road speeding penalty but was able to get it back during a stage two caution. In the final segment, he worked his way into the top 10 and was able to work in the draft… until another speeding penalty cost him another lap. This time, there was no caution to help out. Keselowski finished 23rd, his playoff hopes rapidly waning after a massive 100-point penalty earlier this year for a repaired body panel. He’ll need a win to make the dance in 2022.
When… was the moment of truth?
Raise your hand if you didn’t think it was going to end that way. Yeah, me neither. It almost looked like the field would get to the finish line without a multi-car wreck, but as is typical at Talladega, the move by Larson came a split second too late. Larson wasn’t clear of Kurt Busch on his outside, and the impact sent Busch careening into the wall. Trying to stay with Larson killed Jones’ momentum, allowing Chastain to get by for the victory.
Wallace took the brunt of it along with his teammate as a successful day for 23XI Racing turned into a forgettable one in the last few yards of the race.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 25, 2022
Crashes have become the norm at Talladega and Daytona, with restricted engines tightening the pack and recent incarnations of the Cup cars only making those packs bigger. It’s hard to place blame unless something egregious happens because it’s the nature of the beast.
Why… should you be paying attention this week?
Next Sunday will feature 400 laps on the concrete at Dover Motor Speedway. The track will put the Next Gen car to the test as recent events have been rather tame affairs, with little action at the front in clean air.
Clean air still matters, but so far, the new car has given fans better shows at tracks of a mile or more. For Dover and its fans, the next few races are critical. Since its purchase by Speedway Motorsports, the track could wind up on the chopping block if the Smith family wants to add a date at another facility. Despite their denial of ever wanting to add a Cup event at North Wilkesboro Speedway, those plans could change. Great shows will be the best way for tracks to keep their names out of the race removal conversation going forward.
How… many cars were involved in incidents on Sunday, anyway?
You didn’t see the most cars get into scrapes this week, but there were still quite a few drivers left fuming after being involved to some degree in at least one incident.
The grand total for being involved in at least one crash totaled at least 19 at Talladega.
BJ McLeod had a solo spin in stage two after losing a wheel.
The biggest wreck of the day took place just after the restart for McLeod’s spin when Truex braked harder than expected and caused a chain reaction behind him, culminating in Joey Logano turning off the bumper of Wallace. Both Truex and Wallace avoided the resulting chaos, but drivers listed as being involved to some degree included Logano, Harrison Burton, Austin Cindric, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Todd Gilliland, Cole Custer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
A Cody Ware spin brought out the final caution for an incident, but Busch and Bell collided exiting pit road. Then, one more melee broke out coming to the checkered flag, involving Larson, Kurt Busch, Wallace, William Byron and Corey LaJoie.
Not all of them suffered heavy damage, but that’s still a pretty large total considering there’s a shortage of car body panels for the Next Gen chassis, a shortage which was supposed to mean tamer racing. Guess not…
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.