Ryan Blaney wins at Talladega Superspeedway in photo-finish
Ryan Blaney’s first-career top-10 finish at Talladega Superspeedway was a win in the delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 on Monday.
The race took the green flag Sunday, but just under a third of the way through the 188-lap scheduled distance, rain forced the postponement of the remaining distance until Monday.
“It means a ton,” Blaney said. “I have been coming here ever since I was really young and watched my dad run here a lot and watched him run pretty good here a lot. I got to drive for the Wood Brothers here. It is a cool feeling. This new infield in this new victory lane. I love coming here, and I love it even more now.”
Blaney battled Ryan Newman on the final lap of the race. Blaney restarted as the race leader with two laps remaining after a multi-car crash on lap 182 when Kyle Busch spun as a result of a bump from brother Kurt Busch and several cars were collected. The crash led to a red flag for track cleanup. Newman restarted fourth but took the lead from Blaney on the final lap. The two drivers were side-by-side at the checkered flag, with Blaney taking a 0.007-second margin.
“It was an amazing effort the last two days, to be honest with you,” Blaney said. “We spun out early yesterday and missed some big ones today. We were able to weave our way through. I can’t thank Aric Almirola enough for helping me out there at the end. That big push that Newman and the 11 [Denny Hamlin] got, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to block it. They were coming so fast, and they wanted to split me. I wanted to stay to the bottom and kind of pulled the 11 off the 6 [Newman] and then had a big enough run to get to the six.
"We kind of hit above the line, and that pushed me below the line. That is a big judgement call. You never know. I definitely wasn’t going to go below the line before we made contact. I can’t say enough about this Dent Wizard team. It has been super fun the last couple of days. We are moving on! This is super cool.”
With the win, Blaney secured his advancement to the next round of the playoffs.
Denny Hamlin finished third, joining Blaney as the only playoff driver in the top-five.
“I was just trying to play chess out there,” Hamlin said. “I knew my odds and percentages with the wrecks. I knew once my competitors started to fall, there, I knew that I had to be smart. I just knew the end of these races usually end up like a crash-fest, and I was just going to take all the crash positions I could get once I got back on the lead lap. Once I saw that the percentage was better for me to go race up front for the win versus just taking the end of the lead lap, even if we were to crash, I knew it was in my best interest to try to go there at the end, and we almost won it anyway.”
Chase Elliott was the only other playoff driver in the top-10 at the finish in eighth. Other top-10 finishers included Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell in fourth and fifth, respectively. Austin Dillon finished sixth, Corey LaJoe was seventh, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ninth, and Ty Dillon rounded out the top-10.
Most of the playoff drivers were involved in at least one of three multi-car crash. The only two playoff drivers without at least minor involvement in at least one of the multi-car wrecks were the eventual race winner and Clint Bowyer. Bowyer spun, creating a single-car incident in which he managed to get his car stuck between the apron and track banking. He went two laps down before he was able to get his car loose. He wound up 23rd at the finish.
Bowyer’s trouble came after he took a stage-two win on lap 110. The second stage ended under caution after the first large crash on lap 107 when Alex Bowman spun as the race leader when he attempted to block Joey Logano.
"I haven't completely seen the replay, but my guess is that I threw a block when I shouldn't have thrown a block,” Bowman said. “I got shoved way out there. I knew the No. 22 [Logano] was coming, and I just tried to move down just a little bit. As soon as he touched me, it just turned it sideways. They just had a bigger run than I realized. I should have let them go and shouldn't have thrown a block. I apologize to all the cars that got torn up; that's on me. Talladega happens. I hate it for all of our sponsors.”
Bowman retired from the race after the incident, as did Kyle Larson. The early retirement won’t affect Larson’s playoff survival, though, as he secured advancement to round three with a win at Dover International Speedway a week earlier.
Blaney, Logano, Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson also each led laps in the second stage.
Another large crash came on lap 163 when Wiliam Byron was hooked and hit the wall hard. Several other drivers were collected.
“Obviously, our noses are pointed and it just jacked me right up and turned me around,” Byron said. “I have to look at it. Yeah, it just turned me to the inside first. I don’t know what to do different there to get the push better. Just unfortunate for us. We had a really good run going. I felt like we were going to at least finish pretty solid. Our car was good, just trying to bide our time. Just unfortunate, for sure.”
Other playoff drivers outside the top-10 at Monday’s checkered flag were Logano in 11th, Kevin Harvick in 17th, Kyle Busch in 19th, Keselowski in 25th and Martin Truex Jr. in 26th.
The Sunday portion of the race was paused after Byron took the stage-one win on lap 55. The caution at the end of the stage turned into a red flag period after the completion of 57 laps.
After the HMS quartet of Elliott, Bowman, Byron and Johnson started the race in the first two rows, drivers including Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch all led laps before Blaney took the lead on lap 19. Blaney led the most laps in the opening stage, running up front for 15 laps before spinning as he entered pit road for a green-flag stop on lap 35. He also was nabbed for speeding in the pits. By the end of the stage, though, he was back inside the top-10.
Blaney’s Team Penske teammate Keselowski was up front after a caution a few laps later. Newman, Kurt Busch, Elliott and Daniel Hemric also led laps before Byron took his stage-winning lead on lap 51.
Between-stage, yellow-flag pit stops had yet to take place when the race was red-flagged, so the rest of the top-10 of the running order behind Byron included Logano, Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Keselowski, Larson, Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Blaney.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Matt Crafton was behind the wheel of the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford on Monday as a substitute for Paul Menard, who was suffering from a neck issue. Menard drove the car through the opening stage Sunday. Crasfton drove the car to a 16th-place finish.