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Ross Chastain surprises himself in first Cup start during 800-mile weekend

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Ross Chastain didn’t realize where he finished in his NASCAR Cup debut until about 45 minutes after it was over.

The 24-year-old driver and watermelon farmer was driving a golf cart out of Dover International Speedway when he looked at the frontstretch scoring pylon.

The main portion of the pylon showed the top 15. At the bottom of it, a rotating section showed the rest of the field. Eventually, Chastain’s No. 15 showed up next to the 20th spot.

Chastain was floored.

“Holy cow! Are you kidding me?” Chastain thought. “I was confused after the race.”

For the previous 45 minutes, Chastain thought he finished 22nd in the AAA 400. As the laps wound down, Chastain’s No. 15 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports was running on a lap by itself, three laps off the lead.

After the multi-car crash unfolded during the overtime start, Chastain, who had forgotten about the overtime line rule, shut his engine off and began coasting around the 1-mile track.

“My expectations were to finish a single-digit number of laps down to the leader,” Chastain told NBC Sports Monday as he drove back to North Carolina from Delaware. “Nine laps or less was the goal and then anything after that, just see how the race goes and stay out of the way.”

When he coasted across the finish line, his result was the best for Premium Motorsports at a non-restrictor plate track in 128 Cup starts dating back to 2014. Michael Waltrip delivered the team’s first top 10 in this year’s Daytona 500.

“We were just excited to be competitive,” Chastain said. “I told them going in I struggle wrestling a car that’s loose around Dover and that was again the case with all three race cars this weekend. Every time we’d bring a race car up, I had a really hard time making good lap times.”

Chastain, a four-year veteran of the Xfinity Series, pulled off the triple-header of driving in all three national series races at Dover. He drove for three different teams, with himself being the only common factor on each team.

MORE: Ross Chastain: Watermelon farmer turned NASCAR driver

At the end of the weekend, the native of Alfa, Florida, had attempted to complete 800 miles in three days. Before Sunday, he had never ran in a 400-mile event.

“Never ran 400 miles or laps around anywhere in a single thing,” Chastain said. “Did a lot of prep leading up to it with my mom and making sure everything food wise the week leading up I was doing the right stuff. We eat a lot of barbecue, but she does way better than anybody in our family does. I’ve grown to know that I need to do that and I have been doing it a long time since we got into all this racing stuff. But really ramped it up the last couple of weeks and fed my stuff the right stuff basically.”

In Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race, he finished 15th, three laps down due to a bad battery.

In Saturday’s Xfinity race, Chastain drove his No. 4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports to 21st place, two laps down after losing a right-front tire.

In the midst of it all, Chastain had to prepare to drive a Cup car for the first time.

It made for an unusual Saturday for Chastain, who was used to sticking around Dover until Sunday when the Cup race started and then driving home with the race on the radio. When a JD Motorsports sponsor held a party in the track’s campgrounds Saturday night, Chastain abstained from any adult beverages on the eve of the biggest race of his career.

“I guess I was the only sober one there taking care of everybody,” Chastain said.

On the track, Chastain struggled to get used to an adjustable track bar and the car’s drive height.

“The hardest thing about it was the running back and forth with all the practices,” Chastain said. “Being with three different race teams and not working together except for with me, it was hard for me to communicate everything each car was doing with each crew chief at each team.”

The effort hit a snag in qualifying when Chastain put the No. 15 Chevrolet 36th on the grid out of 39 cars. Still trying to figure out how to navigate his new ride, Chastian worried about how the early portion of the race would unfold.

“I thought it was going to take 100 laps to get up to speed here,” Chastain said. “I might be two or three laps down by then. We got up to speed pretty quick and was competitive. Pretty much my adrenaline was going the entire time in a good way, in that it kept me going throughout the whole Cup race. I never got tired, never felt I was struggling in the car.”

With an average running spot of 26.8, Chastain was 25th by the halfway point. At one point Chastain got into an intense battle with Cole Whitt to be the first car a lap down, swapping spots multiple times as the leaders raced around them.

When he coasted across the finish line, Chastain was ahead of Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Chris Buescher and numerous Cup stars who had wrecked out of the event.

“I was able to pass, legitimately pass, some Cup cars and that just doesn’t happen,” Chastain said. “Starting that far back in the Cup Series, there’s no bad teams, no bad drivers either and we were competitive with them and racing them and I think it caught a lot of the other drivers off guard. Unfortunately, I pissed a few of them off that we were racing with them and they didn’t like it. I felt like I stood my ground.”

After the longest weekend of his NASCAR career, Chastain emerged from his first Cup race feeling “surprisingly well.”

“I was worried, for obvious reasons, I would be pretty worn out,” Chastain said. “I think I would have been, but all three races during the weekend we were fast, so that gets me excited.”

Chastain will continue with his Xfinity Series ride this weekend at Pocono. But after his impressive performance, Chastain says no plans are in the works just yet for another return to the Cup series.

“We need to get back and look at everything,” Chastain said. “There’s definitely a lot to think about. First things first, I just want to enjoy the fact I didn’t do anything too crazy.”

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Cup playoff race at Talladega to resume at 2 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN

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Let’s try this again.

Stage 1 was finished when rain came Sunday and prevented the Cup playoff race from continuing at Talladega Superspeedway. NBCSN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET today. The engines will be fired at 2:02 p.m.

Fifty-seven of 188 laps have been completed. The race will resume with stage 2. That stage will end at Lap 110.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and 0% chance of rain when the race resumes. There is no chance of rain in the afternoon.

William Byron, who won stage 1, was the leader when the race was stopped Sunday. He is followed by Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Matt Crafton has replaced Paul Menard in the No. 21 car and will take over driving duties when the race resumes.

After the race was stopped, Chevrolet summoned its drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors to a meeting that lasted about 25 minutes. Chevrolet has been adamant about its teams working together at Talladega and Daytona since the April race at Talladega. Chevrolet has won the past two races at those tracks with Elliott winning at Talladega in April and Justin Haley winning at Daytona in July.

Asked about Chevy’s tactics, Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports: “Every year the sport changes. It doesn’t matter if it’s how we race each other on track or how strategies play out. The sport is ever-evolving and you’ve got to be on your toes and ready to adjust or the sport is going to pass you up.”

 

Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, lineup and more

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One of the first things Kyle Larson said after winning last weekend at Dover was that “everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing at Talladega … except me.”

Talladega is here and it’s time for many drivers to stress. Except Larson, of course.

The playoff standings could be jumbled by the time the 500-mile journey at Talladega Superspeedway ends. Who will be collected in a crash? Who will get through the carnage and contend for the win?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Edward Graham, assistant VP of Operation Christmas Child for Samaritan’s Purse, will give the command to start engines at 1:48 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:03 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:41 p.m. by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. The National Anthem will be performed at 1:42 p.m. by the 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Alabama.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500.08 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 110.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Chase Elliott led a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep in late April, finishing ahead of Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece. Aric Almirola won this playoff race a year ago, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep with Clint Bowyer second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.