Ross Chastain Was Sick at Talladega, and It Wasn’t Over Finishing Fourth in the Playoff Race

There is no more dangerous track for Ross Chastain and the 11 other remaining contenders in the second phase of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs than Talladega Superspeedway.

Chastain seemingly came away from the Alabama track on Sunday having accomplished everything necessary, but he says the day still left him with a sick feeling. It was only after playoff points leader Chase Elliott captured the checkered flag that Chastain could start feeling better.

Fourth place was good enough for Ross Chastain

Ross Chastain waits on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 1, 2022. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Ross Chastain waits on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 1, 2022. | Chris Graythen/Getty Images

His fourth full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series continues to go swimmingly for Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain. The Floridian’s regular-season victories, the first of his Cup Series career, at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega, launched Chastain into the playoffs, and he reached the first round by finishing seventh at Kansas and sixth at Bristol.

The second round is the most daunting because of the wild disparity in challenges presented by the tracks. Thirteenth place at Texas Motor Speedway on a day filled with cautions wasn’t great but was enough to keep Chastain in the mix.

Sunday’s fourth-place showing at Talladega did more than allow him to tread water. Chastain scored 41 points. While that was only fourth-most among the remaining playoff drivers, the points haul has left him 28 above the cut line heading to the Charlotte Roval, after which the field slims to eight semifinalists.

The Roval hasn’t been kind to Chastain – he’s finished 24th, 22nd, and 23rd there in three appearances – but he arrives with a cushion. He’ll make the transfer to the round of eight unless Sunday turns into a complete disaster.

Ross Chastain says he was sick at Talladega

Talladega’s superspeedway characteristics make it one of the most nerve-wracking tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series. Though the maximum speeds aren’t outlandishly beyond what drivers hit on some of the intermediate ovals, the nature of the racing is exhausting, possibly more mentally than physically.

Typically, two long lines of cars spend dozens of laps at a time running bumper-to-bumper. The moment someone makes a move to the top or the bottom, often looking for a third line, aerodynamics can go out the window for anyone in the vicinity, triggering “The Big One.”

Three dozen drivers know it’s coming; they just don’t know when. For non-drivers, think of it as sitting in the dentist’s office, waiting to be called in for a root canal.

“We always want more, but I’ll take it,” Chastain said of finishing fourth. “My stomach hurts just from agonizing in the car over the wreck that I knew was going to happen. And it’s incredible that we all made it because we were sure trying to crash for a long time.”

One big wreck Was enough, fortunately

There was only one such incident Sunday, midway through the first stage. Ross Chastain had the good fortune not to be involved. It started when rookie Harrison Burton pulled out of the middle line to jump to the front of the third lane of traffic forming on the outside wall.

Rickey Stenhouse Jr. was on Burton immediately, and the push sent the line’s new leader spinning. Austin Cindric, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, and Justin Allgaier got caught up in quick order, with Burton and Gibbs knocked out of the race.

There was plenty more bumper-to-bumper driving the remainder of the way, including a hairy finish in which any of a tightly packed half-dozen cars could have crossed the finish line first. But perhaps the combination of an early near-miss and the fact that 25 drivers didn’t have as much on the line as the playoff drivers contributed to fewer risks for the majority of the day.

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