An eventful afternoon of NASCAR Cup Series racing at Talladega Superspeedway ended with Ryan Blaney taking the win by a minuscule margin.
Blaney, Ryan Blaney.
Deja vu descended upon Talladega Superspeedway on Monday afternoon, as the No. 12 Team Penske Ford won its second consecutive event, the GEICO 500 at the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest track. Much like his win in last October’s postseason thriller, Blaney’s margin of victory was 0.007 seconds. This time, he held off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a finish that came down to the literal final line.
Blaney’s victory was his first since the aforementioned playoff race from last October and the fourth win of his Cup Series career. He has been one of the circuits hottest drivers since it returned from the coronavirus-induced pause five weeks ago, as Monday’s posting was his sixth finish in the top four over the last seven races.
“The past month and a half has been really good for us,” Blaney said in a postrace Zoom conference. “We’ve had some really good runs. We’ve had really fast cars, had a chance to win I feel like every race the last month and a half. It just really hasn’t fallen our way. We just haven’t been in the right place at the right time or not been quite fast enough.”
“(It’s) nice to finally break through, get the first one of the year. Hopefully, this opens the floodgates here and we can get on a roll. This team has been awesome. They’ve been so much fun to work with all year.”
The thrilling finish was the finishing touch of an emotional visit to Talladega. Before the race, the NASCAR community stood in support of Bubba Wallace, the driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. After the race’s postponement from its original date on Sunday, NASCAR revealed that a noose had been found in the garage stall of Wallace, the only African-American driver on the circuit.
Shortly before the green flag flew, drivers and crew members stood alongside Wallace as his car was wheeled to the front of the field. With team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty by his side, the racing community stood behind the No. 43 pair during the invocation and national anthem. Each of Wallace’s 39 competitors then embraced him, starting with his close friend Blaney. The two have been racing alongside each other since they were each 10 years old.
“I think it’s great that everyone rose up, Bubba included, and really came together,” Blaney said of the prerace demonstration. “I don’t want it to be remembered as a terrible day or a bad day in NASCAR. I want it to be remembered as there was an incident and we all overcame it together, showed that we were not going to take it anymore.”
“You may not like each other all the time, may tick each other off on the racetrack from time to time. (But) at the end of the day we’re going to support each other. What really got me was when we got Bubba’s car to the front there, he had to take a little bit to pause and compose himself because it was a very emotional moment for him. I think it was emotional for him because everyone was supporting him. It’s just something different that I couldn’t personally be a part of because I’ve never been in Bubba’s position, but I’m going to support him the best I can.”
Under a new technical rules package, competitive racing dominated the day. Monday’s race featured 177 passes for the lead under green flag conditions, with 19 drivers leading at least one lap. A tightly-packed battle for the lead was set to be altered by fuel mileage, but Jimmie Johnson’s spin on the penultimate lap set up a two-lap overtime finish. Several cars pitted for precious fuel, but Blaney stayed out to pace the field alongside Kevin Harvick.
Harvick got off to a quick restart thanks to a push from Chris Buescher, but the field narrowed up as a get-together in the penultimate turn took out several cars. As the lead pack reached the start/finish line for the final time, Blaney took the lead and made contact with Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek. Further chaos erupted as the field completed the final lap, but Blaney was able to narrowly steal the victory away from Stenhouse. A spinning Aric Almirola finished the race backward but came home in a respectable third-place while Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Jones respectively rounded out the top five.
Blaney’s win was his first under new crew chief Todd Gordon and the fifth win for Team Penske this season (teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have two each). He also becomes the first driver to win consecutive Talladega events since Jeff Gordon swept the yearly couple in 2007.
The Cup Series will return to Talladega for a playoff event in October.
Halfway through its regular season, Cup proceedings now turn to a weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, the first of its kind. The Pennsylvania landmark, known as the “Tricky Triangle” will run the Pocono Organics 325 on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox) and will immediately follow it up with the Pocono 350 on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, FS1). Entries from each of NASCAR’s lower-tier national series will precede each event.
- Toward the end of the first of two 60-lap stages, the event was stalled by a 57-minute rain delay. Rookie Tyler Reddick won the stage, becoming the first freshman to do so since Daniel Suarez at Watkins Glen’s 2017 event. A late stop for fuel relegated Reddick to the 20th position, but he departs Talladega as the holder of the final playoff spot.
- Monday’s event welcomed 5,000 fans to Talladega, which normally draws crowds of about 175,000.
- Wallace was in contention for most of the day and even led a lap, but low fuel forced him to pit during the Johnson-induced caution. He would finish 14th and be applauded by the crowd that was admitted.
- Nemechek was the top finishing rookie, overcoming a spin at lap 96 of 188 to come home eighth.
- Chase Elliott briefly took the standings’ points lead from Harvick, but a crash at lap 135 ended his day. He was one of four drivers whose day ended due to crash damage, joining Brennan Poole, Joey Gase, and Austin Dillon. Matt Kenseth’s rear hub issues relegated him to a last-place posting in 40th.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags