Blaney records first win of 2020 at Talladega

In an overtime shootout on a cloudy afternoon, Ryan Blaney outlasted a last-lap challenge from Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to win the rain-postponed GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2020 season. The win was Blaney’s fourth of his career in his 175th series start and his second straight victory at Talladega. 

The race was postponed from Sunday, June 21, to Monday, June 22, due to inclement weather washing away chances for the race to start as scheduled on Sunday. The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Martin Truex Jr. started on pole position and started on the front row alongside teammate Denny Hamlin. William Byron and Garrett Smithley started at the rear of the field for failing pre-race inspection twice along with Brendan Gaughan, B.J. McLeod and Daniel Suarez, all of whom due to unapproved adjustments. Joey Gase also failed pre-race inspection three times and started at the rear of the field. In addition, he was assessed a pass-through penalty when the race started. 

Prior to the opening ceremonies, the competitors and crew members pushed Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the front of the grid and stood in full solidarity behind Wallace amid Sunday’s controversy, where a noose was found hanging in Wallace’s garage stall. In an ongoing investigation with the FBI, NASCAR has yet to identify the person(s) involved with the racial inequality treatment towards Wallace. Once the opening ceremonies concluded, everyone, including team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty, embraced the sport’s lone African-American competitor in support before making their way to their respective cars and pit stalls for the race.


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When the green flag waved, Truex jumped to an early lead on the inside lane with his teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch trailing behind him. Following the first two laps, the first four cars led by Truex followed by Hamlin and the Busch brothers were racing in a single-file line on the bottom while Kevin Harvick was the first car leading the outside lane. On the fifth lap, when Truex went high to block Harvick, Hamlin made his move on the bottom lane to move into the lead. He then led a five-car breakaway from the pack. Two laps later, however, Hamlin went high on the frontstretch to block a run from Logano, but Logano was able to prevail the following lap to take the lead. On the 10th lap, Truex was shoved out of the draft as he drifted behind the lead pack. Shorty after, Hamlin was able to retake the lead and was followed by Stenhouse and rookie Christopher Bell while Logano fell back to fifth, battling against Kyle Busch. By then, Harvick also dropped out of the lead group and settled near the top 20.

On Lap 15, Logano reassumed the lead on the outside lane on the frontstretch after receiving a boost from teammate Keselowski. Logano settled on the outside lane with his teammates, Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, behind him while Hamlin continued challenging Logano for the lead on the inside lane. After battling Logano side by side for the next three laps, Hamlin rocketed back to the lead on the 18th lap followed by Stenhouse and Kyle Busch while Logano fell back to fourth, battling Kurt Busch. On Lap 22, Blaney and Keselowski drafted Logano back to the lead. For the next three laps, Logano was able to maintain the lead over his teammates when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. By then, names like Chris Buescher, rookie Cole Custer, Stenhouse and John Hunter Nemechek were running inside the top 10. Johnson was in 11th followed by Bell and teammate Alex Bowman, Elliott was in 15th, Byron was in 17th, Harvick was in 20th, Newman was in 23rd behind Reddick, Wallace was in 25th and Truex was in 27th.

Under the competition caution, six of the lead-lap cars remained on track while the rest made an early pit stop. For those who pitted, Logano exited first after taking two tires followed by Blaney, Hamlin, Keselowski and Custer. When the field cycled through, Matt DiBenedetto, who remained on track, emerged with the lead followed by Harvick, Newman, Ryan Preece and Kenseth. The following lap, the top five competitors along with B.J. McLeod pitted, giving the lead back to Logano.

When the race restarted on Lap 30, Hamlin mounted a challenge for the lead on the inside lane before Logano pulled away and cleared the field in Turn 2 followed by Blaney and Keselowski. The following lap, Stenhouse made a move on the inside lane after being drafted by Custer. In Turn 3, Stenhouse attempted to move in front of Logano on the outside lane, but Logano crossed over beneath Stenhouse as Stenhouse was trapped on the outside lane and drifted out of the lead pack.

With potential weather threats and dark clouds approaching the track, the action of the field started to intensify as more competitors started making moves towards the front. By Lap 35, the top-21 cars were running within one second of the lead as Logano continued to lead on the bottom lane while Kyle Busch issued a challenge for it on the outside lane. The following lap, Kyle Busch managed to lead a lap after receiving drafting help from Byron and Austin Dillon. On Lap 40, three laps after Logano was back in front, Byron emerged with the lead after receiving a draft from Hamlin on the outside lane while Kyle Busch drifted back to 17th. The following lap, Hamlin moved on the outside lane and returned to the lead with Bell drafting behind him. As the race progressed, the racing at the front continued to intensify with the field expanding to three-wide racing and drafting one another to draw close to the front. All of this occurred as the winds intensified and the skies darkened into fogginess.

By Lap 50, Bowman emerged with the lead by a nose over Logano. With five laps remaining in the first stage, Hamlin made an unexpected pit stop as a result of making contact with the wall and cutting a right-front tire. The incident costed Hamlin a lap behind the leaders. Soon after, the caution flew due to sprinkles occurring in Turns 1 and 2. At the time of caution, rookie Tyler Reddick emerged with the lead followed by Bowman, Logano, Johnson and Kyle Busch. Shortly after, the field made their way to pit road and the race was red-flagged as the cars were covered and the competitors and crew members went to seek shelter.

Following a delay of more than 57 minutes, the competitors returned to their cars and the race resumed under caution as the jet dryers continued drying the track in preparation for the next green-flag run. The first stage concluded under caution and Reddick emerged with his first Cup stage win followed by Bowman, Logano, Johnson and Kyle Busch. Blaney, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Elliott and Byron were running in the top 10. By then, there were 21 lead changes and eight competitors who led a lap. Under caution, a majority of the leaders pitted and Bowman exited first followed by Johnson, Logano, Blaney and Keselowski as Reddick fell back to eighth. Drivers like Newman, Harvick, Kenseth, rookie Brennan Poole and McLeod remained on track, but shortly after, they pitted and gave the lead to Bowman. During this time, Hamlin, who lost a lap following his unscheduled pit stop due to a flat tire and had sustained minimal damage, was able to take the wave around to return on the lead lap as he restarted in 34th.

When the second stage and the race resumed on Lap 65, Bowman jumped with the lead, but Blaney made a move on the inside lane to lead the following lap. Then, Kyle Busch formed a third lane on the outside lane and started to march to the front. The following lap, Johnson led a lap before Kyle Busch received a draft from DiBenedetto to move into the front. By Lap 70, as the field expanded to three lanes and the competitors started making efforts to move to the front, the Busch brothers were at the front with Kyle leading Kurt. Blaney was in fourth and challenging on the outside lane with his two Penske teammates behind him.  

Ten laps and three lead changes later, the Penske trio were leading the field with Blaney ahead of Logano and Keselowski followed by DiBenedetto, their Penske-alliance teammate, and Kyle Busch. In addition, of the 40-car, the top-30 competitors were separated by less than two seconds with 35 on the lead lap. On Lap 83, Matt Kenseth made a charge on the outside lane towards the Penske cars, but he was nearly turned by Stenhouse in Turn 2, which caused both competitors to loose their momentum from the outside pack and drift outside the top 20. By Lap 90, Wallace, the first car on the outside lane, was battling Custer for a top-five spot and more while being drafted by Kyle Busch.

The race reached its halfway mark on Lap 94 with Blaney still leading his teammates and the field, and with 34 of the 40-car field running on the lead lap. Shortly after, the caution flew when Nemechek got loose entering Turn 4 after reporting a cut right-front tire and spun near the pit road entrance, where he slid his car across the tri-oval grass. He kept his car intact as the field doged him. Under caution, a majority of the leaders pitted and Blaney retained the lead followed by teammates Keselowski and Logano. Drivers like Poole, Corey LaJoie, Preece and Newman remained on track, but once they pitted, Blaney returned to the lead.

The race restarted on Lap 99, and the top-nine competitor on the bottom lane separated themselves from the pack in a single-file line before Kyle Busch started his charge back to the front on the high lane. On Lap 106, Stenhouse led a lap over Blaney as Wallace started to charge towards the front in a third lane on the outside with drafting help from Harvick. Blaney continued flexing his muscles at the front, leading the next five laps, before Stenhouse returned to the lead. Two laps later, Blaney made a bold move on the outside lane entering the frontstretch and nearly slipped sideways in front of Keselowski and the field, but was able to straighten his No. 12 Penske Ford and return to the lead. Not long after, the caution returned due to debris reported on the track, a debris that was hit by Preece. Under caution, the front half of the field remained on track while the second half, which included Preece, Bowman, Ty Dillon, Kenseth, Jones, Harvick, Elliott, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez pitted.

The race returned to green in a two-lap dash to conclude the second stage. At the start, Stenhouse challenged Blaney for the lead on the outside lane with drafting help from Kyle Busch. Stenhouse emerged with a nose the following lap with drafting help from Byron. Byron made a move for the lead in Turn 2 before Blaney fought back the following turn. Entering the frontstretch, Stenhouse was nearly turned by Kyle Busch, but he was able to win the second stage. Blaney finished second followed by Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Bell while Logano, Wallace, Custer, Buescher and Byron were scored in the top 10. By then, there were 39 lead changes with 13 different leaders.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Bowman exited first followed by Elliott, Bowyer, Preece and Almirola, all of whom pitted for only fuel, while Blaney, the first car on fresh tires, exited sixth in front of teammates Keselowski and Logano. A handful of competitors, led by Buescher, remained on track. Following the pit stops, Kyle Busch made another pit stop to have a quarter panel brace repaired.

With 63 laps remaining, the final stage commenced led by Buescher, but Harvick and Elliott split Buescher in the frontstretch with Harvick leading the following lap. During this time, Kenseth, who was running inside the top 10, pulled his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet below the apron and made an unscheduled pit stop to address a flat tire and a mechanical issue to his car. Kenseth would eventually take his car to the garage for further repairs. Soon after, Preece edged Elliott by a nose to lead a lap before Elliott received a draft from Harvick and Hamlin to lead. Meanwhile, Blaney regrouped with Keselowski and started challenging for the lead on the outside lane. 

The caution returned with 55 laps remaining when Elliott, who was running fourth, was blocked by Logano and was bumped by Keselowski from behind, which turned Elliott into the wall, where he made contact and slid sideways with damage to the front nose and rear end of his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Amazingly, the field scattered and dodged him, though Austin Dillon sustained right-front damage after making contact with Elliott’s wrecked Camaro. Under caution, a handful of competitors led by the Penske trio remained on track while others pitted. When the pit stops concluded, Harvick exited first after a fuel-only stop.

Five laps later, the race restarted and Blaney moved from the outside to the inside lane in front of teammates Logano and Keselowski to stabilize his lead. Two laps after the restart, Kyle Busch mounted a challenge on the outside lane. By then, Elliott, who attempted to continue the race with a wrecked racecar, retired with a missed opportunity of winning at Talladega for the second time. After sustaining damage from making with Elliott, Austin Dillon also retired. With 46 laps remaining, Poole and Joey Gase wrecked in Turns 3 and 4, thus drawing another caution. A majority of leaders pitted under caution, mainly for fuel, and Stenhouse led the field off pit road followed by Harvick, Bowman, Bowyer and Hamlin while Blaney exited seventh. The top-eight competitors led by Bell and Jones remained on track. Prior to the restart, a majority of the field returned to pit road for fuel to make it the rest of the way while Bell, Jones, Stenhouse, Harvick, Bowyer, Hamlin and Kurt Busch remained on track.

With 42 to go, the race restarted and Bell made contact with Jones while trying to move to the inside lane in front of Jones’ No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which caused Jones to slip below the double yellow lines (out of bounds). Their contact allowed Harvick to move into the lead followed by teammates Custer and Almirola while Hamlin charged on the outside lane. A lap later, Logano, who restarted 12th, moved back into the lead. Shortly after, Bell was assessed a pass-through penalty down pit road for forcing Jones below the yellow lines on the restart. In addition, Kyle Busch fell off the pace after sustaining a flat right-rear tire. By the time Busch returned on track, he was two laps behind the leaders.

With 34 to go, the field settled in running single file on the bottom lane with Byron leading Logano, Hamlin, Harvick, Johnson and Wallace. The top-20 competitors were separated just above a second while another group of competitors behind, led by 21st-place DiBenedetto, trailed by around two seconds. Six laps later, Wallace emerged with the lead as Byron slipped and fell out of the draft. Shortly after, Logano returned to the lead followed by Harvick while Preece made a move on the outside lane in an attempt to move to the front. He did so the next lap and Bowman made his move to the outside of Preece in an attempt to take the lead. Preece, however, was able to emerge ahead of Bowman the next time the field circled back to the start/finish line as the front pack started racing two by two.

With 20 to go, Bowman was the leader followed by Reddick, Logano, Hamlin and Preece as fuel mileage slowly became the concerning topic for a number of competitors at the front. Five laps later, Reddick was back ahead of the pack followed by Hamlin and Wallace. During this time, Bell, who was running with the lead pack while a lap behind, was forced off the track in Turn 2, but he continued driving straight.

With 10 to go, Reddick was still in the lead ahead of Hamlin and Logano as the field made their way past a five-car pack led by Brendan Gaughan, which the lead pack lapped. With five to go, Reddick continued to lead followed by Hamlin, Wallace and Blaney, who had marched back towards the front. Two laps later, after Hamlin had fallen off the pace due to running out of fuel, Blaney returned to the lead. Just pass the start/finish line, Johnson, who was behind Blaney, was clipped by Harvick and spun below the infield entering Turn 1, which drew the caution and sent the race into overtime. By then, Wallace was also out of fuel. Under caution, a majority of competitors at the front pitted, mainly for fuel. Others like Blaney, Harvick, Stenhouse, Buescher and Custer remained on track while on low tanks of fuel. 


Prior to the overtime, Custer and Newman peeled off the track to pit for fuel, which jumbled up the field for the restart. In overtime, Harvick received a draft from Buescher to jump to the lead while Blaney came charging back with drafting help from Stenhouse. Harvick started the final lap and led through Turn 3 before Blaney raced back to the lead. By then, a multi-car wreck ensued that involved Truex, DiBenedetto, Bell, LaJoie and Clint Bowyer. Entering the frontstretch, Stenhouse and Jones made a final-corner charge for Blaney. Jones went high and tried to cross back to the bottom, but was blocked by Blaney. He then went high again followed by Nemechek and Blaney moved up and made contact with Jones, turning Jones into the outside wall. At the finish line, Blaney edged Stenhouse by 0.007 seconds to win at Talladega for his first elusive Cup win of the season and second in a row at Talladega.

With Blaney’s win, all three Team Penske competitors have recorded at least one win this season as Blaney also became the eighth winner of this season. Blaney also accomplished his first win with his new crew chief Todd Gordon as he has now won 15 races across NASCAR’s top three national division series.

“Just another exciting one here,” Blaney said on MRN Radio. “I was wanting to take the bottom [lane]. I thought [Stenhouse] was a really good pusher all day and I thought the bottom lane, just kind of get out there was gonna be good. I don’t know if he spun his tires or what, but [I] didn’t get the help at all, but was able to pick and choose lanes there and wanted to wait for a while till later on that last lap. You don’t want to wait too long because the caution might come out. I was surprised the caution didn’t come out in [Turns] three and four, and I was lucky we were ahead. Then, they got a big run again. I was kind of out too far down the frontstretch. I really couldn’t see who was outside. I knew there were some people, I just tried to go up to slow’em down. We, kind of, hit, beat and banged. I don’t know where [Stenhouse] came from. He came with a big run there. Me and [Jones], kind of, got beatin’ and bangin’. I was trying to slow him down. He almost got us, I guess. ”

Stenhouse settled in second followed by Almirola, who spun backwards across the finish line. Hamlin settled in fourth while Jones was able to limp his car across the line in fifth. Buescher, Bowman, Nemechek, Kurt Busch and Harvick rounded out the top 10. Jimmie Johnson rallied from his late spin to finish 13th in his penultimate run at Talladega

After the race, while Blaney celebrated his race win, Wallace, who rallied to finish 14th for his sixth top-15 finish of the season, went up to salute, greet and celebrate his strong run amid his tough week with the limited amount of fans allowed to enter and watch the race at the grandstands.

“Just a stout day,” Wallace said on MRN. “I didn’t know how our Victory Junction Chevrolet was gonna be. We weren’t very good following. We jumped up to the top just to make something work and man, we were a good lead car. We got the lead there for a short stint, but it was still good to come out with a solid day. Maybe one or two scratches [on the car], which is pretty good for us. All in all, it’s just gonna be a long week, but it’s good to come out with a good finish. [The fans], They’re family, we’re all family out here. I appreciate every fan coming out today, enjoying the day and glad we got it in. That was pretty cool right there.”

The race featured 57 lead changes with 19 different leaders. There were eight cautions for 33 laps.

With his top-10 run, Harvick continues to lead the regular-season series standings by 23 points over Logano and 25 over Blaney.

Results:

1. Ryan Blaney, 63 laps led

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., five laps led, Stage 2 winner

3. Aric Almirola

4. Denny Hamlin, 18 laps led

5. Erik Jones

6. Chris Buescher, four laps led

7. Alex Bowman, 12 laps led

8. John Hunter Nemechek

9. Kurt Busch

10. Kevin Harvick, two laps led

11. William Byron, 11 laps led

12. Ty Dillon

13. Jimmie Johnson, one lap led

14. Bubba Wallace, one lap led

15. Ryan Preece, three laps led

16. Corey LaJoie

17. Joey Logano, 33 laps led

18. Michael McDowell

19. Brad Keselowski

20. Tyler Reddick, 19 laps led, Stage 1 winner

21. Brendan Gaughan

22. Cole Custer

23. Ryan Newman, one lap led

24. Martin Truex Jr., one lap led

25. Clint Bowyer, one lap down

26. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down

27. Quin Houff, one lap down

28. Daniel Suarez, one lap down

29. Christopher Bell, one lap down, four laps led

30. Gray Gaulding, one lap down

31. B.J. McLeod, one lap down

32. Kyle Busch, two laps down, five laps led

33. Timmy Hill, six laps down

34. Garrett Smithley, six laps down

35. Brennan Poole – OUT, Accident, one lap led

36. J.J. Yeley, 13 laps down

37. Joey Gase – OUT, Accident

38. Chase Elliott – OUT, Accident, three laps led

39. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident

40. Matt Kenseth – OUT, Rear hub

The following weekend will feature the first NASCAR Cup Series’ weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The first Pocono race will air on June 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX while the second race will air on June 28 at 4 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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