TALLADEGA, Ala. — In a battle of Ford drivers in which the blue oval was determined to find its way to victory lane, Ryan Blaney held off Kevin Harvick by 0.012 seconds at the Talladega Superspeedway finish line as Blaney advanced into the round of eight of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Harvick, who is retiring at the end of the year, remained winless on the season.
Blaney used a crossover move from the outside lane to the inside to nudge ahead of Harvick with two laps remaining. Blaney in his Ford for Team Penske and Harvick in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing finished essentially in a drag race with both drivers refusing to lift as a crash broke out behind them.
“I’ve won it by more than I have the last couple years. That one might have been by 4 feet, the others were by 2 but you just don’t know,” said Blaney, a three-time winner at Talladega. “You just kind of drag race a line and hope you get help.”
Blaney joined William Byron as the two drivers locked into the round of eight. The field of 12 will be pared next Sunday to eight following the race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Blaney boss Roger Penske praised the strategy of the Ford camp to work together to ensure a Ford victory as the Chevrolets from Hendrick Motorsports were making a quick challenge.
“For Harvick, who it was his last race here, working like he did with Ryan, it was amazing to see that,” said Penske. “The Hendrick freight train was coming and we all stayed together, that was the call that Ford had earlier in the day when we talked. It was just perfect execution.”
Ford has won 10 playoff races at Talladega, most at any track, and Team Penske has won 10 of the last 18 races at the 2.66-mile Alabama oval.
Blaney, winner of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May, has multiple wins in a season for the second time in his career. But he’s got a lopsided stat this season in that he has only five top-five finishes, but 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,” said Blaney. “To win here three times at Talladega is super cool.”
Harvick finished second as his winless streak stretched to 43 races dating back to last season. He joked the fans might have torn the Talladega grandstands down if he’d won but settled for just not crashing.
“That would have been great. Talladega has been so up-and-down through the years,” Harvick said. “We’ve had some great moments and some bad moments. The last superspeedway race and we went out with everything rolling, so that’s a good thing.”
Byron in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports was third and followed by Denny Hamlin, who rallied from a lap down to finish fourth in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hamlin led three laps during the second stage but was flagged for speeding on pit road — a troubling habit of the three-time Daytona 500 winner considered the best driver to never win a Cup championship — and the penalty contributed to him falling a lap off the pace. It took him most of the race to earn his position back on the lead lap and then drove through the field to secure his finish.
“Not how we drew it up, but a dub is a dub and that was a dub in our book — it’s as close as it gets to it,” Hamlin said. “A top-five is a long way from where we were with about 15 laps to go.”
Corey LaJoie finished fifth in a Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports. Blaney teammate Austin Cindric was sixth, Justin Haley of Kaulig Racing was seventh in a Chevrolet, defending race winner Chase Elliott was eighth for Hendrick, followed by the Fords of Ryan Preece and Riley Herbst. None of the drivers who finished fifth through 10th are in the playoffs.
The race had 70 lead changes among 24 drivers and was fairly clean. Ross Chastain was in an early crash that caused last year’s championship runner-up to finish last. Brad Keselowski was in a later crash with 28 laps to go that ended the race for him, caused damage to Talladega’s outer wall, and stopped all action under a red flag. Despite finishing 33rd, Keselowski remains 2 points above the cutline headed to Charlotte’s elimination race.
The four drivers in jeopardy of elimination are Tyler Reddick of 23XI Racing, Chastain of Trackhouse Racing, Bubba Wallace of 23XI, and Kyle Busch of Richard Childress Racing. Busch must win to advance.
Wallace had a lengthy post-race chat with 23XI co-owner Michael Jordan on pit road following his 24th-place finish. Jordan appeared to be encouraging him, at one point placing his hand on the back of Wallace’s neck and then shoulder, then pulling him in for a hug.