Ryan Blaney Wins YellaWood 500 Thriller At Talladega To Advance In NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

Ryan Blaney Wins YellaWood 500 Thriller At Talladega To Advance In NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

by October 1, 2023 1 comment

By Holly Cain

NASCAR Wire Service

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford crossed the finish line about a foot ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick to claim victory in a thrilling final 10-lap push to the YellaWood 500 checkered flag at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Sunday.

With the crucial Playoff win – Blaney’s third on the famed 2.66-mile high-banks – the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford punched his ticket to the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs after being points away from elimination at the Talladega green flag three hours earlier.

Blaney led eight laps on the day but was out front the final two laps to secure the win by a slight .012-second – about the length of a tire – over former series champion, Harvick, who is retiring at the end of the season. It’s the 29-year old Blaney’s second trophy of the season and ninth of his career.

“I don’t really know, pretty wild last restart, let alone last couple laps,’’ said a smiling Blaney, who admitted he wasn’t sure if he won until his spotter confirmed. “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.

“I won it by more than I had the last couple years,’’ Blaney conceded with a laugh. “You just don’t know. You have to drag race to the line and hope you get help. William [Byron] gave me a pretty good shove on the bottom.’’

“This is such a special place to win at so I cannot wait to go to Victory Lane,’’ he said.

Playoff drivers Byron, who drives the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Denny Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota finished third and fourth. Spire Motorsports’ Corey Lajoie was fifth – his third career Top-5 finish – just ahead of a multi-car accident just before the finish line. 

Blaney’s Penske teammate Austin Cindric, Hendrick’s Chase Elliott, Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley, Harvick’s teammate Ryan Preece and Front Row Racing’s Riley Herbst – making only his fourth career NASCAR Cup Series start – rounded out the Top-10.

It was a typical action-packed ‘Dega day with 70 lead changes among 24 drivers. Blaney’s teammate Joey Logano led the most laps (24) but finished 25th.

Seven drivers led double-digit laps, but only one of those – Byron – was a Playoff driver.

Hamlin’s fourth place final effort was especially impressive considering he was issued a pit road penalty mid-race and had to recover from being a lap down. 

“Not how we drew it up, but a dub (W) is a dub (W) and that was a dub (W) in our book,’’ Hamlin said. “As close as it gets to it. Made a statement bringing me a car fast enough for us to win. And obviously when I had to go there, I could, and just made the right moves at the right time and a Top-5 is a long way from where we were with about 15 laps to go.’’

Blaney joins last week’s Texas winner Byron with victories in this three-race Playoff round to earn a position in the next eight-driver round. Hamlin’s rally – after running outside the Top-20 for much of the middle of the race – keeps his position atop the Playoff standings (50 points) among those 12 drivers still Playoff eligible.

JGR’s Christopher Bell, who finished 15th, remains fourth in the championship standings. Roush Fenway Keselowski driver Chris Buescher, who finished 20th at Talladega, is ranked fifth. Hendrick’s Kyle Larson, who finished 16th Sunday, holds a 17-point edge on the eight-driver cut-off line tied with regular season champion Martin Truex Jr., who finished 19th at Talladega.

Brad Keselowski, one of two Playoff drivers to suffer a DNF on Sunday, still holds a slim two-point edge on Tyler Reddick for that eighth and final transfer position going into next week’s race at the Charlotte ROVAL, which will determine which eight drivers advance to the penultimate three-race round to set the Championship Four field.

23XI Racing’s Reddick, who finished 17th, is in ninth place – a mere two-points back. Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain who was involved in an early-race accident and suffered his first DNF of the Playoffs dropped below the cutoff line for the first time this round and is now 10th place, nine points back. 

Chastain is tied in points with 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, a former Talladega race winner who finished a frustrating 24th on Sunday. His team co-owner, NBA superstar Michael Jordan met up with Wallace on pit road after the race offering a handshake, pat on the back and some encouraging words.

Two-time series champion Kyle Busch still finds himself in a catch-up role, essentially needing a walk-off victory next week at the ROVAL road course through Charlotte Motor Speedway. He finished 26th and now sits 26 points behind eighth place Keselowski.

Keselowski’s position in the standings – thanks in part to his sixth stage win (stage 2) of the season –  is remarkable considering his tough luck day at Talladega. He was among the eight cars collected in Talladega’s “Big One” with 25 laps remaining that brought out a nearly 10-minute red flag for clean-up.

Chastain was the first NASCAR Cup Series Playoff driver to suffer a major Talladega woe – caught up in an incident involving Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 59 racing toward the Lap 60 Stage 1 break. Busch made contact with Stenhouse’s Chevy, which was slowing on track after running out of gas. As Busch swerved to avoid crashing, his No. 8 Chevy caught the corner of Chastain’s No. 1 Chevy. It sent Chastain hard into the wall and then directly to the garage, his first DNF of the Playoffs.

“It’s just the way it goes, nothing personal with it, I don’t take any of this personally here,’’ said Chastain, who finished runner-up in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. “Could have stayed bottom a few laps earlier probably, just had a couple cars laying in my lap and I went for the gap. Will study it and be better next time.

“Lefts and rights and living my dream,’’ he said of the crucial ROVAL race next weekend, “so whatever our team brings next week we’ll put our best foot forward as long as I’m getting to drive these rocket ships that Trackhouse [Racing] brings me, I’m living my dream and we’ll keep fighting.’’ 

During post-race inspection, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Harvick was disqualified due to windshield fasteners that were not secure. He was relegated to a last-place finish as a result. 

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). Bell is the defending race winner.

Photo Credit: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

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