TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ross Chastain surveyed the situation on the final lap Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway and decided his best strategy was to stay right where he was and not make a move for the win.
It got him to victory lane.
Chastain stole the win when leader Erik Jones moved out of his way to defensively block reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson. It cleared the lane for Chastain, who pointed his Chevrolet straight, slipped past Jones and collected his second career win on the top circuit — a month after his first.
"Holy cow! We didn't do anything! We just stayed down there!" Chastain screamed over his radio after winning for the second time in five races.
The race was Jones' to control on the final lap, and the Petty GMS Motorsports driver knew Hendrick Motorsports' Larson would make a move for the win. Larson waited until they were exiting the final turn, and in hindsight, Jones said he should have let him go and stayed put with Chastain on his bumper.
"Looking back, I wish I would have stayed on the bottom and let (Chastain) push me," Jones said. "It is what it is. You're trying to just win the race. You can only see how much is going on from the seat. You're trying to make the best decision you can the last 1,500 feet."
Chastain won in March on the road course at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, to put fledgling Trackhousse Racing in victory lane for the first time. This one was his first on a superspeedway, where he said he's usually the driver who makes the wrong moves.
"I'm always the one going to the top early and making the mistake, and there at the end it was like eight (laps) to go, and I was like, 'I'm not going up there again,'" Chastain said. "I did that a couple of times. I was like, 'I'll just ride on the bottom. I'm not going to lose the race for us.'
"I have no idea. They just kept going up. They just kept moving out of the way."
The eighth-generation watermelon farmer from Florida climbed out of his car through the open roof flaps — like a sunroof — and smashed a watermelon from the roof of the Chevy in celebration.
Chastain also bit into a hunk of watermelon he picked up off the ground, but this time asked on Fox Sports if any seeds had gotten stuck in his beard. He did his entire live television interview after his win in Texas with a bit of watermelon rind stuck on his face.
The winning car was the same Chevy that Chastain drove to victory then, but NASCAR's new Next Gen model makes it easily adaptable to the different venues on the schedule. The car is also more durable than past models, which cuts down on cautions — even at crash-prone Talladega. The entire third stage of Sunday's race at the Alabama megatrack was completed without a caution.
Chastain and William Byron are the only multiple race winners through 10 Cup Series events — a quarter of the season. In his first season with TrackHouse, a second-year team owned by former driver Justin Marks and entertainer Pitbull, Chastain is locked into the playoffs.
The 29-year-old Chastain never imagined so much success out of the gate with a new team.
"Are you kidding me? I've wrecked myself so many times and gotten into it with guys," Chastain said. "Justin Marks and what he laid out for us was ambitious. I had no idea what to expect other than I knew I had my group from last year. (Sponsors are) believing in us. We started the year with a lot of races open (for funding). We're almost full now, and it's because of the vision of Justin Marks.
"We won, dude!"
Austin Dillon finished second for Richard Childress Racing in another Chevy, while Kyle Busch was third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing after winning the previous Sunday on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway — stealing his own victory at the Tennessee short track when Chase Briscoe and Tyler Reddick spun while going for the win.
Larson wound up fourth, followed by JGR's Martin Truex Jr. and then Jones, who fell all the way to sixth trying to save the win. Michael McDowell in eighth was the highest-finishing Ford driver.
"It's typical here. Been close here so many times," Jones said.
Larson was similarly disappointed, believing Sunday was the first time he's ever been in contention to win on a superspeedway.
"Honestly the first time I've had a legit shot at winning a plate race in the Cup Series, so happy about that," Larson said. "But when you are that close — and I was in the exact position I wanted to be in, I didn't want to be leading — I feel like I did a good job with patience and stuff. Just made one small mistake there and it cost me one."
The Cup Series races next Sunday at Delaware's Dover International Speedway.
F1: Red Bull rules in Italy
IMOLA, Italy — Reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen dominated Sunday in a Red Bull rout of Ferrari at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
Verstappen won from the pole position, logged the fastest lap and picked up his second win of the season while leading teammate Sergio Pérez to the first one-two Red Bull finish since at Malaysia in 2016.
"Lovely Sunday," Verstappen radioed his Red Bull team. The 24-year-old Dutchman also won the sprint qualifying race Saturday and earned maximum points on the weekend.
Lando Norris was third for McLaren.
It was a disastrous race for Ferrari, racing on its home soil and hoping to celebrate a return to F1 dominance. Charles LeClerc came into the week as the championship leader with two wins in the first three races and Carlos Sainz Jr. celebrated a two-year contract extension this weekend in Italy.
But LeClerc couldn't get the jump on Verstappen at the start and never contended. Sainz spun off course on the opening lap to ruin his race, and LeClerc's bid to salvage the day for Ferrari ended when he spun racing Perez for second. He ultimately finished sixth.
LeClerc had a 46-point lead in the standings over reigning champion Verstappen at the start of the race but the Verstappen win cut the gap to 27 points.
The race featured a stirring late battle between Mercedes newcomer George Russell and Valtteri Bottas, the driver he replaced. The two went down to the final lap for fourth position, with Russell holding off the veteran for the spot.
Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile. continued his early struggles and finished 13th. Mercedes head Toto Wolff apologized to Hamilton over the radio for the "undriveable" car that Hamilton was given in Italy.