Ryan Blaney wins at Talladega, advancing to the NASCAR playoffs; Kevin Harvick gets disqualified
Ryan Blaney held off Kevin Harvick at the Talladega Superspeedway finish line in a duel of Ford drivers in which the blue oval seemed determined to find its way to victory lane, advancing Blaney into the round of eight in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Harvick, who is retiring at the conclusion of the season, finished the race winless and was disqualified when his car failed inspection.
With two circuits remaining, Blaney executed a crossover maneuver from the outside lane to the inside to go ahead of Harvick. Both Blaney in his Team Penske Ford and Harvick in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford finished in a drag race, with both drivers refusing to lift as a wreck broke out behind them.
“I’ve won it by a larger margin than I have in the previous two years.” “That one might have been by 4 feet, the others by 2, but you never know,” said Blaney, a three-time Talladega champion. “You just kind of drag race a line and hope you get help.”
Blaney and William Byron qualified for the round of eight together. Following the race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, the field of 12 will be reduced to eight.
As the Chevrolets from Hendrick Motorsports made a fast charge, Blaney boss Roger Penske commended the Ford camp’s approach of working together to achieve a Ford triumph.
“For Harvick, who it was his last race here, working like he did with Ryan, it was amazing to see that,” Penske stated. “The Hendrick freight train was approaching, and we all stayed together; that was the call Ford had earlier in the day when we spoke.” It was simply flawless execution.”
Ford has won the most playoff races at Talladega, with ten, while Team Penske has won ten of the previous 18 at the 2.66-mile Alabama circuit.
For the second time in his career, Blaney, who won the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte in May, has multiple wins in a season. However, he has a skewed stat this season, with just five top-five finishes and two wins.
“It was a pretty wild restart, let alone the last couple of laps, losing momentum and getting it back, just getting clear to the bottom to get to the front row and drag race it out with Kevin,” explained Blaney. “To win here three times at Talladega is super cool.”
Harvick finished second, extending his winless streak to 43 races dating back to last season. NASCAR announced nearly two hours after the race that his Ford had been disqualified due to insecure windshield fasteners.
Harvick’s disqualification pushed him to the back of the pack. Byron moved up to second in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and Denny Hamlin, who fought from a lap down, moved up to third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
During the second stage, Hamlin led three laps. Still, he was cautioned for speeding on pit road – a problematic tendency for the three-time Daytona 500 winner regarded the finest driver never to win a Cup championship – and the penalty contributed to his falling a lap behind. It was Hamlin’s fourth speeding penalty of the season, and it took him the majority of the race to regain his place on the lead lap, after which he raced through the pack to finish.
Not as we envisioned it, but a dub is a dub, and that was a dub in our book – it’s as near as it gets,” Hamlin explained. “A top-five is a long way from where we were with about 15 laps to go.”
Corey LaJoie, who is not in the playoffs, climbed up to fourth for Spire Motorsports in a Chevrolet. Austin Cindric of Blaney Racing moved up to sixth, followed by Justin Haley of Kaulig Racing in a Chevrolet, defending race winner Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, and the Fords of Ryan Preece and Riley Herbst. Daniel Suarez has climbed up to tenth place. The drivers that finished fourth through tenth do not qualify for the playoffs.
The race included 70 lead changes between the 24 drivers and was quite clean. Ross Chastain was involved in an early collision, causing the championship runner-up from the previous year to finish last. Brad Keselowski was involved in a subsequent incident with 28 laps remaining that terminated the race for him, damaged Talladega’s outer wall, and brought all activity to a halt.
Despite crashing and finishing 33rd, Keselowski was still two points above the cutline heading into Charlotte’s elimination race.
Tyler Reddick of 23XI Racing, Chastain of Trackhouse Racing, Bubba Wallace of 23XI, and Kyle Busch of Richard Childress Racing are the four drivers facing elimination. Busch must win in order to advance.
Following his 24th-place finish, Wallace had a lengthy post-race conversation with 23XI co-owner Michael Jordan on pit road. Jordan looked to be encouraging him, at one point resting his hand on Wallace’s back of the neck and then shoulder, then drawing him in for an embrace.
Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano in the championship race last year, crashed out on the penultimate lap of the opening stage last Sunday after colliding with other title contenders Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell.
Chastain entered Talladega, the round of 12’s middle event, placed sixth in the Cup standings and 12 points ahead of the cutline. His last-place performance knocked him below the cutline, putting him in a high-pressure scenario on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway next week.
Chastain has had four previous appearances on Charlotte’s hybrid road course/oval circuit and has struggled. His best placing is 22nd.
“Left and right,” he remarked when asked how he thinks the coming week will go. “I’m living my dream, so whatever our team brings next week, we’ll give it our all.” As long as I get to pilot these rocket ships sent to me by Trackhouse, I’m living my dream, and we’ll keep battling.”
Next Sunday, NASCAR races on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Christopher Bell triumphed last year to prevent elimination from the playoffs.