TALLADEGA, Ala. – There were three photo finishes in NASCAR’s fall tripleheader at Talladega Superspeedway, and with each photo finish, there was one driver that wished their front bumper was a few inches longer.
At the conclusion of Sunday’s YellaWood 500, Ryan Blaney was the racer eyeing the front of his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang, finishing second to Chase Elliott by four hundredths of a second.
“It just stinks to be so close to our first win of the season to just come up short,” Blaney shared with Kickin’ the Tires afterward.
Blaney was up front during the majority of the final stage. He radioed to his spotter that he preferred working with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick, both of whom helped push the 28-year old to the front multiple times.
But during the final set of pit stops, both of Blaney’s preferred pushers received speeding penalties, leaving Blaney to fend for himself.
With no teammates in sight, Blaney dueled with Erik Jones, with the pair combining to lead 25 of the last 26 laps. He quickly figured out which lines worked better for his speed as he dissected the closing laps.
“I probably would have done one or two more things different, but I didn’t want to give up the bottom,” Blaney explained. “I didn’t want to get to the middle and have the chance to get split. I trust Chase (Elliott) a lot but not that much to not split me for the race win. I figured to just get in front of Michael (McDowell) – he was a good pusher – and I thought we had a good shot at least staying side by side with the 9 and kind of it being a drag race. But we just got separated in (turns) 3 and 4. I think the 11 laid off of him, and it let the 9 get clear.
“I had a big run. It just wasn’t enough.”
Blaney did win a million dollars earlier in the year in the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway, but he hasn’t won a points-paying race all season. And as the playoffs get deeper, Blaney’s desire to win continues to build.
With more non-playoff drivers winning in the postseason, those wins appear to be even more valuable than ever before.
“It’s a little bit different than what you’re used to seeing in the playoffs,” noted Blaney. “But at the end of the day, a lot of these guys who aren’t in the playoffs winning races are great drivers with great teams. I’m not fully surprised. In the playoffs, usually you see every playoff guy win a race, but it’s just a little bit different this year.
“I’m happy we’re in a decent spot on points, though.”
Blaney won the inaugural Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in 2018, but hasn’t won on a road course since. Despite no top-five finishes this year when turning right and left, Blaney still feels confident and has his head down in focus.
The confidence comes from his strong runs at past road course events, but his focus boils down to survival of the fittest. So far, multiple issues have been seen at turn one of the Roval, where drivers get pushed wide, especially on late-race restarts.
The main difference is the runoff. Road courses are designed for runoff where drivers can overshoot corners or miss a braking zone and not have a heavy impact with the wall right away. Whether there is grass, asphalt or gravel, that gap helps with safety concerns.
At the Roval, there are no designed runoff areas, considering the course is all held within a 1.5-mile oval. Avoiding the chaos, Blaney tipped, is going to be vital to get into the next round.
“It’ll be a wild race, that’s for sure,” he said regarding the Oct. 9 playoff elimination race. “You have a couple guys that need to win the race. You have a couple guys right on the cut line. Fortunately for us, we have a decent buffer so I think we can be kind of smart about what we do and put ourselves in a spot to finish and move on.”
No matter if it’s the unknowns of Talladega or the chaos of turning right and left, there’s only one thing on Blaney’s mind at this point.
“We really want to win.”