Ryan Blaney emerges from last-lap wreck as Charlotte Road Course winner

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CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 30: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, celebrates after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on September 30, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

CHARLOTTE, NC – SEPTEMBER 30: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, celebrates in victory lane by placing the Winner’s sticker on his car after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on September 30, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – In a race that was as wild as advertised in the closing laps, Ryan Blaney sped past crashing Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. in the final corner to win Sunday’s inaugural Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course.

With his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and the second of his career, Blaney advanced to Round of 12 in the Playoffs.

Johnson wasn’t as lucky. The seven-time series champion was pressuring Truex on the final lap and powered his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the inside of Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry off the banking of Turn 15 coming into the frontstretch chicane.

Johnson spun and collected Truex as he slid across the asphalt between Turns 16 and 17, knocking Truex’s Toyota toward the outside wall in the tri-oval. Blaney drove his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Fusion between the two wrecked cars and crossed the finish line .792 seconds ahead of runner-up Jamie McMurray.

Because he had blown the chicane, Johnson stopped on the frontstretch as mandated by NASCAR before continuing across the finish line. He finished eighth and ended the event tied for 11th in the Playoff standings with Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson, who completed the final lap in a car that had been all but destroyed in a Turn 1 wreck after a restart on Lap 104 of 109.

Almirola and Larson got the final two berths into the Round of 12 on a tiebreaker based on the best finish in the current round. Larson was second at Las Vegas, and Almirola took fifth place at Richmond. Johnson’s best result was the eighth at Charlotte, leaving him on the outside with Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, who also were eliminated from the Monster Energy Series Playoffs in Sunday’s cutoff race.

“Tough weekend, just kind of avoided some stuff,” Blaney said after he climbed from his car. “You hate to see two guys get into it there and take out two of the best cars all day. But that’s racing sometimes.

“We were just at the right spot at the right time. It’s cool to be in Victory Lane and move on to the next round.”

Truex, who led into the final chicane, was understandably disappointed with his 14th-place result.

“Last corner, desperation behind us, that’s what you get,” said Truex, a four-time winner this season. “I gave him (Johnson) the inside lane, and he had the run through (NASCAR Turn 4), and I was real tight down there. I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of 4 there to the chicane.

“He just over-drove it and was never going to make it and he used me as brakes and turned us both around. It sucks. We could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win, and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the Playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”

Joining Blaney, Larson and Almirola in Round of 12 of the Playoffs are Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas winner), Kyle Busch (Richmond winner), Truex (locked in after Richmond) and Kevin Harvick (who qualified for the next round when he took the green flag on Sunday).

Advancing on points were pole winner Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Alex Bowman. Bowyer ran third on Sunday, followed by Bowman, Kurt Busch, Elliott and AJ Allmendinger.

Chase Briscoe gets first Xfinity win in 

inaugural Charlotte Road Course race

CHARLOTTE, NC – SEPTEMBER 29: Chase Briscoe, driver of the #98 Nutri Chomps/Ford Ford, celebrates after winning during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for the Cure 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on September 29, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Briscoe made the most of pit strategy that put him out front during Saturday’s inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course.

Leading the last 24 of 55 laps in the Drive for the Cure 200 at the challenging 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course—thanks to a pit stop on Lap 26, before the end of Stage 2—Briscoe held off Justin Marks after the last restart on Lap 45 and took the checkered flag 1.478 seconds ahead of Marks’ No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Driving the No. 98 Ford fielded by Biagi DenBeste Racing in collaboration with Stewart-Haas Racing, Briscoe claimed his first victory in the series. Neither Briscoe nor Marks are Playoff contenders, given that neither is running a full Xfinity Series season.

“This is unreal,” an elated Briscoe said after the race. “I was four seconds off in practice, and my guys stuck behind me and kept working with me. It’s just an honor and privilege to drive a race car and to do it for my hero, (Stewart-Haas co-owner) Tony Stewart, and get a win.

Briscoe took particular pride in winning the inaugural race on the Charlotte Road Course, which combines an infield section with the traditional oval punctuated by two chicanes.

“It’s huge to me,” Briscoe said. “Everybody had to adapt to it and figure it out, and I don’t know that I’m necessarily the best at it, but I felt like I just tried not to hit anything, and this thing hardly has a scratch on it.”

Marks, a road-course specialist who also ran Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, gave the Charlotte Road Course a favorable review.

“These ROVAL races are always challenging for these series to put on, given the confines of the oval, but I thought it was great,” Marks said. “If we’re going to reinvigorate this fan base and we’re going to regain some positive momentum on our side, we’ve got to think outside the box and do things like this.

“So I really applauded the effort everybody made to put this track together. The track itself is challenging… The did a great job of painting the infield, there’s a lot of grip there, and it’s a really challenging course. But you want to challenge this group of drivers. You want it to be hard for them… You’ve got tight corners, and then you’ve got the things wound up to 160 miles an hour on the oval, and that’s a little bit of everything these cars do. That makes it an exciting event.”

Pole winner and Playoff driver Austin Cindric recovered from a spin in Turn 6 while leading on Lap 14 to finish third in front of Ryan Preece and series leader Christopher Bell, who has advanced to Round 2 of the Playoffs by virtue of his Sept. 21 victory at Richmond.

In fact, Cindric and Daniel Hemric had arguably the two fastest cars, but, like Cindric, Hemric made a mistake that cost him a chance to battle for the win.

On Lap 45, after the final restart, Hemric blew the frontstretch chicane and paid the prescribed penalty of a full stop in the tri-oval. He fell to 15th and fought his way back to 10th at the finish.

Approaching next week’s Playoff cutoff race at Dover, Bell is the only driver locked into the second round. With the field to be trimmed from 12 to eight contenders after the Dover race, Cindric is in ninth place, nine points behind Ross Chastain in eighth.

In the wide-open competition for the top eight spots, only 12 points separate third place Tyler Reddick from Chastain.

Matt Tifft, Cole Custer, Kaz Grala, Tyler Reddick and Hemric completed the top 10 in Saturday’s race.

Jimmie Johnson goes for Charlotte victory — and crashes out of Playoffs

CONCORD, N.C. – With more than just a split second to think about it, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson might have made a different choice.

But the Hendrick Motorsports veteran had a drought-breaking victory in his sights and confidence in his No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and that proved an unfortunate combination—one that cost him a spot in the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

On the last lap of Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road course, Martin Truex Jr. was leading with Johnson in close pursuit. Johnson closed up to Truex’s rear bumper through Turns 13 and 14 (Turns 3 and 4 on the NASCAR oval) and took the inside line into the frontstretch chicane.

But Johnson overdrove the corner, spun and backed into Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry between Turns 16 and 17, knocking Truex’s car toward the outside wall in the tri-oval. Ryan Blaney charged between the two wrecked cars and won the race.

Johnson rolled across the finish line in eighth and finished the event in a three-way tie for the two final berths in second round of the Playoffs. But he lost a tiebreaker to Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola based on best finish in the first round and consequently lost a chance to compete for a series leading eighth title.

Entering the race, Johnson had suffered through a career-long 51-race winless streak, and the long-awaited victory was there for the taking.

“Yeah, I had been so good into that final braking zone, I really felt like I could put some pressure on (Truex) and take a shot at it,” Johnson said. “I got out of the chicane on the back straightaway better than he did and put some pressure on him. Got him loose and off the bottom (on the oval), and I thought that was my chance.

“Unfortunately, down here through the bumps coming into that braking zone, I just locked up the rears and couldn’t control my car and spun. I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly I did and spun him around.  Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their day, which I feel bad about.

“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win, and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive, but we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points—and it bit me.”

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