TALLADEGA, Ala. — Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.
On the last lap of Sunday’s race, Erik Jones lost the lead coming to the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway. Kyle Larson wasn’t able to snag it from the second-place position either. Instead, third-running Ross Chastain coasted by to steal the victory.
“Defending the 5 (Larson), I probably would have just stayed on the bottom,” Jones said. “I didn’t realize the bottom was coming with that much momentum. … Obviously, if I would have known that the bottom had that much steam, I would have probably stuck with it and hoped, hoped the 1 (Chastain) has to push me.
“It’s frustrating, but you work that hard for 500 miles and it comes down to the last 1,000 feet.”
As the field made its way down the frontstretch, Jones’ No. 43 slid out further and further, which isn’t ideal at a superspeedway. The gap allowed Larson to make a move to the outside. Jones tried to defend, following Larson to block his path.
Both went too high and created a wreck behind them. Larson finished fourth. Jones managed sixth.
“I made the move that I wanted,” Larson said. “I just wished instead of taking that run to the outside, I would have just kind of did what I did but kind of juked left at the last second and got to the bottom and probably would have won the race.”
Because they drifted up together, a clear view of the finish line was presented to Chastain. The win marked his second of 2022, making him just the second driver (along with William Byron, also two) to own more than one win through 10 races.
Austin Dillon turned out the runner-up. Kyle Busch came in third, then Larson, and Martin Truex Jr. fifth.
“I’m gonna remember that I crossed the line and I honestly didn’t know if we won,” Chastain said. “I mean, I knew that I quit blocking. I think the 3 (Dillon) finished second. Like I saw the 5 (Larson) and the 43 (Jones) hang a right, and then I was just motoring on the bottom.”
Larson won earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway, so he has a playoff bid. He sits seventh in the points standings.
A Talladega victory for Larson, though, would have been career first for superspeedways. The top-five result was even still a first. In his previous 30 superspeedway starts – that includes Talladega (2.66 miles) and Daytona International Speedway (2.5 miles) – Larson’s best-ever finish was sixth, at both tracks.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Larson said. “I mean, I really didn’t do anything fancy or different. I just kind of ran the bottom all race long, saved fuel and allowed myself to have shorter pit stops.”
A victory Sunday for Jones would have not only been a first for him personally in 2022, it would have signified No. 200 for the No. 43 in the sport’s history. Talladega, rather, marked his third top 10 this season. His best, so far, was third at Auto Club. Jones now ranks 17th, one spot short of the 16-driver postseason field.
Sixteen races until that field is set, starting with Dover Motor Speedway next Sunday (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM).
“I guess at the end of the day, we go on to Dover next week and hopefully have another opportunity,” Jones said. “Beyond that, I know we can win at non-superspeedways. We just have to put the parts and pieces in place to do it.”