Ryan Blaney advances in Playoffs with razor-thin win

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TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 14: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Dent Wizard Ford, takes the checkered flag ahead of Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Wyndham Rewards Ford, to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 14, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

 

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 14: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Dent Wizard Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 14, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Two factors threw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs into chaos on Monday afternoon—Talladega and Ryan Blaney.

By .007 seconds—the sixth closest finish in series history—Blaney edged Ryan Newman to win Monday’s rain-delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, which took a big bite out of most other Playoff contenders and set up a scramble for the six remaining spots in the Round of 8 next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

With his first victory of the season, his first at Talladega and the third of his career, Blaney secured his berth in the next round, joining Dover winner Kyle Larson, who crashed out of Monday’s race in 39th place.

“Yeah, it was an amazing effort the last two days, to be honest with you,” said Blaney, who spun coming to pit road during Stage 1, which was completed on Sunday just before the rain arrived and forced the rest of the race to be run on Monday.

“We spun out early yesterday and missed some big ones today. We were able to weave our way through. I can’t thank Aric Almirola enough for helping me out there at the end.”

Blaney led the field to green with two laps left, after a caution for an 11-car pileup on the backstretch caused the eighth caution of the afternoon. On the final lap, Blaney surrendered the lead to Newman, who got a strong push to the front from eventual third-place finisher Denny Hamlin.

Coming to the checkered flag, Blaney side-drafted Hamlin and uncoupled the two cars, and with help from fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola, he beat Newman to the finish line by roughly one foot.

“That big push that Newman and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) got, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to block it. They were coming so fast and they wanted to split me. I wanted to stay to the bottom and kind of pulled the 11 off the 6 and then had a big enough run to get to the 6.

“We kind of hit above the line (at the apron) and that pushed me below the line. That is a big judgment call. You never know. I definitely wasn’t going to go below the line before we made contact (because of the possibility of a penalty). I can’t say enough about this Dent Wizard team. It has been super fun the last couple of days. We’re moving on! This is super cool.”

Getting separated from Hamlin in the last quarter-mile likely cost Newman a chance for his first victory with Roush Fenway Racing.

“We just came up that little bit short,” Newman said. “I don’t know what else to say. I could have pinched him some more. I probably could have taken the air. You can go back and bench-race that three weeks from now. It was good racing to the end.”

None of the 12 Playoff drivers escaped the race without incident. The massive wreck on the backstretch on Lap 182 of 188 destroyed the winning chances of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch was pushing his brother Kyle in the middle of a three-wide pack when the Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved up the track toward Kyle Busch’s Toyota. Almost simultaneously, Kyle’s No. 18 Camry turned sideways off the nose of Kurt’s Chevrolet and slammed into the No. 62 Chevrolet of Brendan Gaughan, who was leading the outside lane.

Playoff driver Alex Bowman was gone on Lap 107, when his attempted block of Joey Logano went awry and ignited a 10-car incident that crippled the No. 19 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. and damaged the cars of Harvick, Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.

Pole winner William Byron saw his Playoff hopes take a hit when he turned to the right off Kurt Busch’s front bumper and drove Logano’s No. 22 Ford into the wall on lap 162. That     occurred after a blown tire, and a spin onto the apron waylaid Clint Bowyer on Lap 153.

Elliott recovered to finish eighth, and Logano secured an 11th-place result, but when the smoke cleared from the multicar accidents, Bowman, Elliott, Bowyer and Byron found themselves facing probable must-win scenarios at Kansas.

Almirola ran fourth, followed by Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ty Dillon.

Alex Bowman owns up to 10-car wreck that hurt 

his Playoff chances

TALLADEGA, Ala. – A small misjudgment may have cost Alex Bowman a chance to advance to the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Bowman was out front in Monday’s rain-delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway when he tried to block a strong run by Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer, who were advancing at a much higher rate of speed.

Slight contact from Logano’s Ford sent Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet spinning toward the apron and triggered a 10-car wreck that crippled Bowman’s car and damaged the machines of six other Playoff drivers in the process.

After retiring from the race in 37th place, Bowman heads for next Sunday’s race at Kansas 12th in the series standings and likely needing a victory to advance to the next round.

“I knew the No. 22 (Logano) was coming, and I just tried to move down just a little bit. As soon as he touched me, it just turned it sideways. They just had a bigger run than I realized. I should have let them go and shouldn’t have thrown a block. I apologize to all the cars that got torn up. That’s on me. Talladega happens. I hate it for all of our sponsors.”

“The spoilers are so big now, that even though they are clear, the cars shake so much you really can’t see. At least I couldn’t. My mirrors are super shaky, and trying to look through a thing of lexan is tough. Just didn’t do a very good job of judging it, and that’s on me.”

Denny Hamlin overcomes issues to run third at Talladega

Denny Hamlin sustained damage in a 10-car wreck on Lap 107 of Monday’s rain-delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota also had a cowl flag break free from his car earlier in the race.

Despite the issues, Hamlin was charging at the finish, and he took the checkered flag in third place, just .059 seconds behind race winner Ryan Blaney. As a result, Hamlin heads to next Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway on top of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, a comfortable 56 points ahead of Alex Bowman, the first driver below the cut line for the Round of 8 in the series Playoffs.

“(The race) changed with every caution,” said Hamlin, who hung back until the very end, wary of the multicar wrecks that caused enormous attrition on Monday. “It changed with every car that fell out. I mean, just a game of chess all day. Sure, we could have got up there and raced, got in the middle, but we would have been in all those wrecks. Didn’t make sense to me.

“I knew the statistics, the odds, the chances. I looked at how many cars were on the lead lap if we were to crash at that point in the race. It just wasn’t worth the risk. There wasn’t enough to gain with cars still crashing. We waited till the bulk of them got out, then went up there and tried to win. We almost did.”

Chase Elliott salvages decent finish but needs Kansas win

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 12: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Night Vision Chevrolet, talks with Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Dent Wizard Ford, during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 12, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott thought his car was damaged severely in a Lap 107 wreck in Monday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

But timely cautions and exceptional work by his pit crew not only allowed Elliott to continue in race but also to salvage an eighth-place finish. Nevertheless, he leaves Talladega 10th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 22 points below the cut line for the next round of the Playoffs.

In all probability, Elliott will have to win on Sunday at Kansas to advance to the Round of 8.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 13: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Night Vision Chevrolet, and Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide/Amazon Echo Auto Chevrolet, lead the field during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 13, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“We had our ups and downs for sure today,” Elliott said. “Got caught up in that crash, but my guys did a nice job of putting it back together as best we could. Just head out west to Kansas now and try to get a win out there. That’s about all we can do now.”

NextGen car gets positive reviews after Richmond test

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Ty Dillon was eager to get the rundown from his brother.

On Wednesday at Richmond Raceway, Austin Dillon got a chance to test a prototype of the NextGen car NASCAR plans to introduce into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2021. The car was assembled by Richard Childress Racing in collaboration with NASCAR.

Before practice on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, Ty got feedback from his brother.

“Yeah, I just talked to him right before first practice for about 20 minutes,” Ty Dillon said. “He is really excited about that car. It’s totally different. There are so many things different about it that I’m like, ‘That’s going to happen? They are going to do this with that car?’ I would have no clue what that look or feels like.

“He said it was crazy and a whole lot different. It’s exciting for our sport. Our sport needs to continue to grow and evolve. That’s the kind of steps we need to take in all aspects of the sport.”

The early returns indicate the NextGen car should set a new performance standard for NASCAR’s top series.

“All he told me is that it stops really good, it turns really good, it feels lighter and faster,” Ty said of Austin’s test run in the car. “Just some different little things and some new unique aspects that I didn’t even know were things on the car they are working on trying. It’s all still in a development stage of a car, but it sounds exciting. I think it’s going to be a lot of good things for the sport … It gives the driver more opportunity to show what he can showcase. That’s exciting for all of us.”

Breast cancer survivors get high-speed thrill at Talladega

One by one – helmets still on their heads, HANS devices around their shoulders – a group of breast cancer survivors emerged from specially-painted pink Talladega Superspeedway pace cars grinning ear-to-ear and raising their arms in triumph.

“Very, very, very fun,’’ a smiling Deanna Dean, 53, of nearby Oxford, Ala., said after walking away from a ride with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ty Dillon.

It was a welcome and highly-appreciated event at the track for local breast cancer survivors – part of “Chevrolet Cares” and its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Program. It included breakfast, a pace car ride on the Talladega high-banks and autograph session with Chevy drivers Dillon and May’s Talladega Cup race winner Chase Elliott.

Dean, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer five years ago, has attended this Chevrolet event for years. Not necessarily a “huge” NASCAR fan before this breast cancer event, Dean said, “I am now.’’

“It feels like someone is saying, ‘we know your life has changed and you went through this hard thing and here’s a little something for you.’ It feels like a gift after cancer. And I meet some Stage 4 ladies here every year and you are reminded to be thankful, to be grateful that you made it through your journey.  On the days you feel bad and are discouraged, you remember to be grateful. You meet amazing people here.’’

One of those tough Stage 4 survivors, Suzanna Townsend, 53, of Birmingham, was also at the track early Saturday morning – wearing a bright pink wig and some impressive cowboy boots. A long-time teacher – who holds a Masters Degree – and is mom to three adult children – Townsend is an especially inspiring story. And spirit.

First diagnosed with breast cancer on Aug. 10, 2012 – yes, most survivors remember the exact date – she found out only Friday night that doctors have discovered a long-term, inoperable brain tumor was “active” now. Obviously, her world has been turned upside down, but she smiled broadly standing in the Talladega pits and shared that “The good news is I’m here and the doctor told me, ‘Go ride, you need to live.’”

She said her ride with Dillon was a highlight and that the Germain Racing driver was kind and encouraging in even the few minutes they shared on track.

“I’m glad to be here, I’m glad to feel so alive,’’ Townsend said following her hot laps around Talladega. “That made me feel awesome.’’

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