LINCOLN, Ala. – Ryan Blaney keeps his friends close and his Talladega victories closer.
By just 0.012 seconds, Blaney edged Kevin Harvick at the finish line for his third career win at Talladega Superspeedway. His previous two were gapped by a slim seven thousandths of a second each.
“I won it by more than I had the last couple years,’’ Blaney conceded with a laugh.
“I don’t really know (what happened), pretty wild last restart, let alone last couple laps. Kinda lost momentum, then getting it back, got clear to the bottom to kind get to the front row and drag race it out with Kevin [Harvick]. It’s so cool to win here three times at Talladega.
“This is such a special place to win.”
The win locks him into the Round of 8. Now that the No. 12 Team Penske team doesn’t have to worry about the ROVAL, they look to be more aggressive to possibly snag another win and valuable Playoff points.
“It does take some pressure off,” said Blaney. “I mean, you go try to win the race next week for sure, but maybe you can be a little bit more aggressive on stages or back. Maybe you flip to stages and try to go win the race instead of having to go get points in the stages.
“I feel like a lot of guys are going to have to do that if they’re on that agenda of being close to the cut line, so it just kind of changes the way you approach it a little bit too.”
But the trouble for Blaney has been to find a way into the Championship 4. In the last two years, he has finished second and fourth at Phoenix Raceway, splitting the championship contenders and showing he can be a true threat if he becomes eligible.
“I think just learning from mistakes. I feel like I’ve made mistakes. Last year I made two massive mistakes and kept us out of Phoenix. So I think learning from prior experiences is beneficial there. I’m excited to see what we have for them when we unload in Vegas.”
Harvick fell short both at the line and in post-race technical inspection. NASCAR deemed the fasteners in his windshield were found to be “not secured.” While NASCAR did not clarify how many were in violation, they did clarify his violations were specifically Rules 14.1.E, 14.1.P, and 126.96.36.199.F After failing inspection, he would be officially credited with a last-place finish as well as losing his points earned from the second stage.
William Byron would inherit the second position and Denny Hamlin officially finishes third. Byron is a guarantee to join Blaney in the Round of 8 after his win last week at Texas Motor Speedway.
Corey LaJoie would earn his third top-five finish this year with a fourth place result. Blaney’s teammate Austin Cindric rounded out the top five.
Chase Elliott finished sixth with his No. 9 Chevrolet still in the hunt in the owner’s Playoff standings. Justin Haley, Ryan Preece, Riley Herbst and Daniel Suarez completed the top-10 results.
Other Playoff drivers would finish deeper in the field: Christopher Bell (14th), Kyle Larson (15th), Tyler Reddick (16th), Martin Truex Jr. (18th), Chris Buescher (19th), Bubba Wallace (23rd), Kyle Busch (25th)
Ross Chastain was the first Playoff driver to be struck by Talladega woes. Coming to the finish of Stage 1, Chastain went for a four-wide gap but was clipped by Kyle Busch. Chastain’s crash permanently damaged the steering mechanism, forcing his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet out of the race. He would finish 37th.
Brad Keselowski later gave a bad push to Carson Hocevar, leading to a four car pileup and a ten minute red flag. Keselowski would be unable to continue and officially finish 32nd with a second stage win.
The Bank of America ROVAL 400 is next Sunday afternoon at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).