Blaney edges Harvick in thrilling finish to win at Talladega, clinch Playoff’s Round of 8 berth

In career start No. 301 in NASCAR’s premier series, Ryan Blaney punched his ticket into the Playoff’s Round of 8 after edging Kevin Harvick in a photo finish to win the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, October 1.

The 29-year-old Blaney from High Point, North Carolina, led four times for eight of 188-scheduled laps in an event where he started 10th and competed towards the front amidst the draft, aggressive shuffling and tight-packed competition while needing to rebound after retiring late during last weekend’s Round of 12 opener at Texas Motor Speedway. After winning the first stage, Blaney, who restarted on the front row during the final restart with 13 laps remaining, seized an opportunity for the win as he was drafted by Riley Herbst to duel against Kevin Harvick with two laps remaining.

Then after emerging out in front at the start of the final lap, Blaney, who lost the lead to Harvick, made a crossover move from Harvick’s blocking attempt to draw even with him through the backstretch and approaching the tri-oval. With nearly the entire field wrecking through the tri-oval, Blaney then received a push from William Byron to edge Harvick at the finish line by 0.012 seconds to notch his second NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2023 season, his third at Talladega and race his way into the Round of 8.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, September 30, Aric Almirola notched his second Cup pole position of the season and the sixth of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 181.656 mph in 52.715 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Joey Logano, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 181.642 mph in 52.719 seconds.

Prior to the event, Carson Hocevar dropped to the rear of the field due to an unapproved adjustment made to his No. 42 Legacy Motor Club entry.

When the green flag waved and the race started, Almirola gained a slight advantage on the inside lane through the first two turns until the outside lane led by Logano caught back up through the backstretch. With the field stacked up amid two tight-packed lanes, Almirola and Logano continued to duel dead even for the lead through Turns 3 and 4 and the tri-oval until Logano managed to lead the first lap in his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang by a hair.

Through the second to fifth lap, the field continued to run stacked amid two tight-packed lanes as Logano and Almirola continued to battle dead even for the lead, with Almirola having teammate Chase Briscoe draft him on the inside lane while Logano, who remained on the outside lane and continued to lead the proceeding laps, had drafting help from Playoff contender Kyle Larson. By then, Riley Herbst, who was competing in the No. 36 Beast Unleashed White Haze Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports, was battling within the top five while Playoff contenders William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney along with Alex Bowman were in the top 10.

By the sixth lap, the field fanned out to three packed lanes as Herbst jumped to the outside lane and formed a third drafting lane as he had drafting help from Hamlin, with Logano leading the middle lane and Almirola still leading the inside lane. The expansion of the lanes allowed Almirola to lead the sixth lap before Logano reassumed the top spot by the seventh lap.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps and amid the three-wide racing, Logano was leading ahead of Byron, Blaney, Larson and Austin Dillon while Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Briscoe, Todd Gilliland and Brad Keselowski were in the top 10. By then, Herbst, Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were in the top 15 while Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher occupied the top 20. Meanwhile, Ross Chastain was back in 25th and Kyle Busch was mired in 32nd while all 38 starters were separated by more than a second.

Five laps later, Logano and Byron dueled for the lead as the field continued to fan out to three lanes, with Blaney, Austin Dillon, Truex and Larson jostling in the top six. A few laps later, Truex drafted his way to the front and led Lap 17 as he, Logano and Byron were the front-runners of the three-wide drafting competition.

As the field surpassed the Lap 20 mark, the front-runners continued to run three wide amid a stacked field with Logano, Byron and Truex leading the three lanes. By then, Playoff contenders Blaney, Reddick, Larson, Wallace, Hamlin and Keselowski were running within the top 20 along with Truex and Byron while Bell, Kyle Busch, Buescher and Chastain were running towards the rear of the field. In addition, all 38 starters were separated by less than two seconds.

Three laps later, Ryan Preece, who was sporting the Wonder Bread Ricky Bobby scheme on his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, muscled his way into the lead after receiving a draft from Logano to move ahead of Truex followed by Austin Dillon, Byron and Blaney. By then, Truex slipped out of the top 10 while Hamlin, who lost the draft and dropped towards the rear of the field earlier, was trying to muscle his way back to the top 10 as he was working with his 23XI Racing drivers, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, within the draft on the outside lane. Truex would then blend in within the draft and work with his Toyota teammates.

A lap after the Lap 30 mark, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who started 35th, used the outside lane amid the draft to move his No. 47 Sara Lee Artesano Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the lead ahead of Preece. By then, the field settled back to competing amongst two tight-packed lanes as Erik Jones and Cindric moved up towards the front in front of Logano while the Dillon brothers joined the battle. By then, Byron was the highest-running Playoff contender in eighth place while his remaining 11 title rivals were mired within the top 26.

Then on Lap 39 and as Ty Dillon assumed the lead, the first cycle of green flag pit stops commenced as a bevy of Ford competitors, including Blaney, Cindric, Logano, Harvick, Almirola, Keselowski, Briscoe, Harrison Burton and Buescher pitted. The following lap, another wave of competitors, mainly Chevrolet competitors led by Justin Haley and Byron, peeled off the track to pit. During the following lap, select names led by Ty Dillon pitted while Bell assumed the lead. By Lap 42, the final group of competitors, mainly Toyota competitors led by Bell, pitted under green. Once the first cycle of green flag pit stops concluded, Stenhouse reassumed the lead before Austin Cindric assumed the top spot by Lap 43. By then, the final wave of competitors who pitted drifted back towards the rear of the field. Amid the pit stops, Erik Jones was penalized for having men over his pit box too soon.

At the Lap 50 mark, Stenhouse was still leading by a hair over Cindric as he had Kyle Busch drafting him while Cindric, Blaney and Byron were also battling towards the front and within the draft. By then, Playoff contender Larson was in seventh while Keselowski, Buescher and Chastain were in the top 15. Meanwhile, the remaining Playoff contenders included Wallace, Truex, Bell, Reddick and Hamlin were mired back within the top 31.

Then on the final lap of the first stage period, Lap 59, the event’s first caution flew when Stenhouse, who was trying to muscle his way to the front with drafting help from Kyle Busch, fell off the pace after running out of fuel through the backstretch. With Busch stuck behind Stenhouse, Ross Chastain then came surging towards them in his attempt to win the stage, but he ended up making contact with Busch as he veered sideways in Turn 3 before getting hit by Bell’s No. 20 DeWalt Toyota TRD Camry and shooting back across the outside wall. The incident was enough to conclude the first stage period under caution as Playoff contender Ryan Blaney, who came into Talladega 11 points below the top-eight cutline, notched his fourth Cup stage victory of the 2023 season. Byron followed suit in second while Larson, Elliott, Bowman, Cindric, Haley, Harvick, Logano and Preece were scored in the top 10. By then, Playoff contenders Kyle Busch, Bell, Wallace, Reddick, Keselowski, Buescher, Truex, Hamlin and Chastain did not score the first wave of stage points. Amidst the incident, the damage to the No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was enough to terminate Playoff contender Chastain’s event early in the garage while Bell, Allmendinger and Chandler Smith pitted for repairs.

Under the stage break, the entire lead lap field led by Blaney pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Harrison Burton exited pit road first followed by Blaney, Elliott, Larson, Byron, Bowman and Logano. Amid the pit stops, a bevy of names including AJ Allmendinger, Keselowski, Wallace, Buescher, Truex, Stenhouse, the Dillon brothers, Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Chandler Smith pitted again to top off on fuel.

The second stage period started on Lap 65 as Blaney and Elliott occupied the front row. At the start, Blaney and Elliott dueled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch. With the field stacked up in two tight-packed lanes, Blaney and Elliott continued to duel for the lead as Elliott had teammate Larson drafting him on the outside lane while Blaney had Byron drafting him on the inside lane.

Ten laps later, Bowman, who led Lap 73 by a hair, was leading by a hair over Cindric followed by Elliott, Harvick and Almirola while Larson, Blaney, Preece, Corey LaJoie and Byron were battling within the top 10 and amid two tight-packed lanes. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch was in 11th, Reddick was in 18th and Truex was back in 21st while Bell and Keselowski were within the top 25 on the track. Meanwhile, Wallace was in 29th ahead of Buescher and Hamlin, both of whom were in 31st and 32nd.

Another 10 laps later and amid the jostling of positions within the field that fanned out to three stacked lanes, Erik Jones, who led for the first time two laps earlier, was leading ahead of McDowell, Stenhouse, Gilliland and Cindric while Bowman, Herbst, Harvick, Elliott and Reddick were in the top 10. Another lap later, McDowell received a draft from teammate Gilliland to move his No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang into the lead. McDowell and Herbst, who navigated his way back to the front, would then swap the lead through Lap 90 as all three Front Row Motorsports competitors, including Gilliland, were running first through third. By then, 23XI Racing’s Reddick and Wallace were trying to navigate their way into the top five.

At the halfway mark on Lap 94, Herbst was scored the leader followed by Reddick, McDowell, Wallace and Gilliland while Cindric, Erik Jones, Harvick, Stenhouse and Almirola were battling in the top 10 amid two long stacked lanes. By then, Playoff contenders Larson, Hamlin, Bell, Blaney, Truex, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Buescher and Byron were mired within the top 33 as 33 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap and separated by two seconds.

Six laps later, Wallace drafted teammate Reddick into the lead as they made their way past Herbst and the Front Row Motorsports group while the field behind fanned out to three packed lanes. McDowell would fight back on the inside lane during the proceeding lap as Preece navigated his way back into the top five. Not long after, Hamlin assumed the lead on Lap 102 as Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski followed suit. By then, McDowell challenged Hamlin for the top spot on the inside lane while Wallace and Reddick fell back to sixth and seventh.

Then on Lap 105, the second wave of green flag pit stops commenced as a bevy of competitors led by Hamlin and Wallace, who locked up the front tires, pitted. Amid the pit stops, Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road. During the following lap, another wave of competitors, mainly Ford competitors, pitted before the final wave of competitors led by Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon pitted. Cindric would also be penalized for speeding on pit road while Keselowski cycled his way into the lead by Lap 108. With Keselowski leading through to the Lap 110 mark, Logano followed suit in second before he assumed the top spot during the following lap. Behind, Almirola made his way into second over Keselowski while Blaney, Austin Dillon, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Buescher, LaJoie and Preece were scored in the top 10.

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 120, Keselowski, who navigated his way into the lead over Byron during the previous lap and came into the event eight points above the top-eight cutline, fended off the field to claim his sixth Cup stage victory of 2023. Byron settled in second followed by Logano, Austin Dillon and Elliott while Suarez, Larson, Briscoe, Ty Dillon and Reddick were scored in the top 10. Amid the battles for stage points within the lead lap group, Carson Hocevar managed to claim the free pass spot after crossing the start/finish line ahead of Hamlin to be the first competitor that was scored a lap down.

During the stage break, the field led by Keselowski returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Logano exited first while Keselowski, Larson, Suarez, Byron, Elliott, Austin Dillon and Blaney followed suit. Amid the pit stops, Ty Gibbs was penalized for removing his gas can out of his pit box, which then dropped in the middle of pit road, ignited and erupted into a huge fire. With Gibbs serving his penalty, a number of competitors that included Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Harvick, Almirola, Briscoe, Buescher, Wallace, McDowell, Preece, Gilliland, Herbst, Allmendinger and LaJoie returned to pit road to top off on fuel.

With 63 laps remaining, the final stage started as Logano and Larson occupied the front row. At the start, Logano and Larson dueled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch. Amid two tight-packed lanes, Logano muscled ahead on the outside lane followed by Keselowski while Larson remained on the inside lane as he had Daniel Suarez and Byron drafting him. Logano would retain the lead with 60 laps remaining while Playoff contenders Larson, Keselowski, Byron, Kyle Busch, Reddick, Blaney and Truex were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Buescher and Wallace were in 17th and 19th while Bell and Hamlin were mired back in 29th and 33rd.

With 50 laps remaining and as the field slowly fanning out to three packed lanes, Logano was leading ahead of Keselowski and Elliott while Kyle Busch and Larson were mired in the top five. By then, Reddick, Suarez, Truex, Byron and Blaney were in the top 10 while Wallace was in 11th. By then, Hamlin, who was still scored a lap down, was blending in within the lead lap pack and leading the outside lane with drafting help from Wallace while Logano continued to lead ahead of Keselowski, Elliott and Kyle Busch.

A few laps later, Buescher, who moved up to the outside lane, received a huge push from Hamlin amid a stacked three-wide battle to move toward the front while Logano retained the lead. With Hamlin moving down in front of Logano through the middle lane, Buescher would launch his bid for the lead against Logano while Keselowski, Almirola, Wallace and Larson moved up and battled toward the front. Amid the continuous shuffling and drafts within the three stacked lanes, Wallace would then make his way into the runner-up spot with 40 laps remaining behind the leader Logano before Byron assumed the lead during the proceeding lap followed by Blaney. This would drop Logano and Wallace to third and fifth while Bowman moved up to fourth as Keselowski occupied sixth.

Then with 34 laps remaining, Wallace made his way into the lead as he overtook Byron through the tri-oval before fending off Buescher. Wallace would spend the next two laps leading in his No. 23 Leidos Toyota TRD Camry until Byron reassumed the top spot in his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with 31 laps remaining. Byron’s move occurred as the field fanned out to nearly four lanes as Almirola, Blaney and Bowman followed suit. Soon after, Wallace, who was being drafted by Hamlin, slipped out of the top 10 as Byron, Blaney, Bowman, Larson and Stenhouse occupied the top five amid three stacked lanes.

With 27 laps remaining, the caution flew for a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch after Hocevar, who was leading the outside lane amid a three-wide battle, got sideways off the front nose of Keselowski as Hocevar spun and clipped Ty Gibbs, who collected Austin Dillon in the process, as Dillon clipped Keselowski and sent the No. 6 Solomon Plumbing Ford Mustang for a spin, with Keselowski’s car briefly coming off the ground, towards the inside wall before Dillon made hard impact against the outside wall head-on along with Gibbs as Harrison Burton, Briscoe and Allmendinger also wrecked. At the moment of caution, Harvick had assumed the lead while Almirola, Herbst, Byron, Wallace, Blaney, Bowman, Larson, Suarez and Stenhouse were scored in the top 10. The incident would be enough to place the event in a red flag period for nearly 10 minutes as the on-track safety crew proceeded to repair the track’s damage across the walls and the carnage.

Once the red flag lifted and the field proceeded under a cautious pace, the lead lap field led by Harvick pitted for service. Following the pit stops and amid mixed strategies, but mainly for fuel, Logano exited first followed by LaJoie, Almirola, Harvick, Bowman, Blaney and Larson. Meanwhile, Hamlin received the free pass and cycled back on the lead lap.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, where Almirola and Bowman occupied the front row, the race restarted under green. At the start, Almirola and Bowman dueled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch as the field stacked up within two tight-packed lanes. Both Almirola and Bowman continued to duel for the lead through the tri-oval as Almirola had teammate Harvick drafting him on the outside lane while Bowman had drafting help from Blaney.

Three laps later and as the field started to fan out to three lanes, the caution returned due to debris reported on the backstretch. By then, Bowman was the leader followed by Blaney, Almirola, Herbst and Harvick while Elliott, Larson, Logano, Byron and LaJoie were in the top 10.

During the following restart with 13 laps remaining, Bowman muscled ahead of Blaney to retain the lead as the inside lane gained the advantage through the first two turns and the backstretch. With the outside lane trying to regain the advantage through the tri-oval, Bowman retained the lead as Harvick ignited his charge to the lead. Harvick would then be drafted into the lead with 11 laps remaining followed by Blaney as Elliott, Herbst and Larson were battling within the top six. As the field fanned out to three lanes with the competitors jostling and shuffling within the pack and the draft, Harvick retained the lead with 10 laps remaining before the Hendrick Motorsports competitors led by Bowman and followed by Elliott assumed the top spot during the following lap.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Elliott was leading ahead of teammates Larson, Byron and Suarez while the outside lane led by Harvick tried to gain the run towards the front. In the midst of the battles towards the front, the field fanned out to three lanes as the competitors started to shuffle and draft their way to the front. Shortly after, Bowman was shuffled out of the lead draft as he started to lose ground of the front-runners while Harvick assumed the lead.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Blaney and Harvick, both of whom spent the previous three laps locked dead even for the lead amongst two packed lanes, were in front of the field as Blaney led the previous lap by a hair. Through the frontstretch, Harvick would receive a push from Byron to muscle ahead as he then moved his No. 4 Busch Light Camo Ford Mustang up the track to block Blaney. Blaney, however, made a crossover move to dive his No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang beneath Harvick through the backstretch before he gained a slight advantage entering the tri-oval. Harvick then had Herbst drafting him as he started to gain ground on Blaney with the three-wide stacked field approaching the finish line. Then with nearly everyone behind the front-runners wrecking as Herbst got turned across Elliott and Larson, Blaney, who remained ahead of Byron, managed to edge Harvick, who had no drafting help, by 0.012 seconds to claim the victory.

Photo by John Knittel for SpeedwayMedia.com.

With the victory, Blaney achieved his ninth NASCAR Cup Series career victory, his third at Talladega Superspeedway, his third in the Cup Series Playoffs, his second of the season and his first since winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. The third-generation racer also recorded the third victory of the season for Team Penske and the seventh for the Ford nameplate.

The victory automatically guarantees Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang team a spot into the Round of 8 along with William Byron as Blaney, who transferred into the Round of 8 for the fifth time in his career, continues his pursuit for his first Cup Series championship.

“Yeah, I don’t really know [how we won],” Blaney, who celebrated on the frontstretch with the fans, said on NBC. “Yeah, pretty wild [the] last restart, but let alone, last couple laps, kind of lose the momentum, getting it back. Just getting cleared to the bottom to get to the front row and drag-race it out with Kevin [Harvick]. Really proud of the whole No. 12 group. It’s so cool to win three times here at Talladega. That’s super cool. I have to give a big thanks to Riley Herbst. He did a really good job there the last couple restarts. He doesn’t have a lot of Cup starts, but he did a great job at pushing me, so thanks to him. This is so cool. I’ve won it by more than I have the last couple years, but that one might’ve been about four feet. The others [Talladega wins] were about two, but you just don’t know. You just got to drag-race to the line, hope you get help. William [Byron] gave me a pretty good shove on the bottom [lane]. He’s kind of forced to. I wasn’t sure [that I won] till [spotter] Josh [Williams] said something. Josh did a fantastic job on the roof like always. This is such a special place to win at, so I cannot wait to go to Victory Lane.”

While Blaney celebrated with his team in Victory Lane, Harvick was left disappointed, but still smiling, over his runner-up result in his 46th and final career start at Talladega and on a day where he led 11 laps and notched his seventh top-five result of the season. Despite having his Playoff hopes evaporated following the Round of 16, Harvick continues his pursuit for his first victory of the season as he is down to his final five Cup career starts before retiring from full-time competition.

“I just tried to block the lanes and then, I was kind of late blocking [Blaney] there,” Harvick said. “He got to the outside of us, but it actually worked out OK because [Byron] was a great pusher and then, it got shuffled again and I had Riley [Herbst] behind me. I thought I was in a really good spot headed down the back straightaway with everything that was happening because I knew if I could get off the tri-oval with Riley right on my bumper, I was still gonna be OK and then, he got spun in the middle of the tri-oval. Great day. Great way to end at Talladega. Always want to win. It is what it is. Last superspeedway race and went out with everything rolling, so that’s a good thing.”

Following the event, however, Harvick was disqualified from his runner-up result due to the windshield fasteners from his car not being properly secured. As a result, Byron, who led 12 laps and is already guaranteed a spot in the Playoff’s Round of 8 after winning last weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway, was promoted into the runner-up spot followed by Denny Hamlin, who rallied from being mired a lap down to finish third in his No. 11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota TRD Camry. Corey LaJoie avoided the carnage to finish fourth in his No. 7 Gainbridge Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and notch his second top-five result of the season while Cindric ended up fifth.

Haley, Elliott, Ryan Preece, Riley Herbst and Daniel Suarez finished in the top 10 on the track. Notably, Playoff contenders Bell, Larson, Reddick, Truex, Buescher, Wallace and Kyle Busch ended up 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, 23rd and 25th, respectively.

There were 70 lead changes for 24 different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 17 laps. In addition, 29 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

Results.

1. Ryan Blaney, eight laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. William Byron, 12 laps led

3. Denny Hamlin, three laps led

4. Corey LaJoie

5. Austin Cindric, 15 laps led

6. Justin Haley, one lap led

7. Chase Elliott, eight laps led

8. Ryan Preece, eight laps led

9. Riley Herbst, 10 laps led

10. Daniel Suarez

11. Chandler Smith

12. Todd Gilliland

13. Chase Briscoe

14. Christopher Bell, two laps led

15. Kyle Larson, one lap led

16. Tyler Reddick, two laps led

17. Aric Almirola, seven laps led

18. Martin Truex Jr.

19. Chris Buescher, three laps led

20. AJ Allmendinger

21. Michael McDowell, five laps led

22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 14 laps led

23. Bubba Wallace, three laps led

24. Joey Logano, 48 laps led

25. Kyle Busch, two laps led

26. Erik Jones, four laps led

27. Ty Dillon, two laps led

28. Alex Bowman, 13 laps led

29. BJ McLeod, one lap down

30. Brennan Poole, two laps down

31. Harrison Burton – OUT, Suspension

32. Brad Keselowski – OUT, Accident, five laps led, Stage 2 winner

33. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident, one lap led

34. Ty Gibbs – OUT, Accident

35. Carson Hocevar – OUT, Accident

36. JJ Yeley – OUT, Fuel pump

37. Ross Chastain – OUT, Accident

38. Kevin Harvick – Disqualified, 11 laps led

*Bold indicates Playoff contenders

Playoff standings

1. William Byron – Advanced

2. Ryan Blaney – Advanced

3. Denny Hamlin +50

4. Christopher Bell +22

5. Chris Buescher +19

6. Martin Truex Jr. +17

7. Kyle Larson +15

8. Brad Keselowski +2

9. Tyler Reddick -2

10. Bubba Wallace -9

11. Ross Chastain -10

12. Kyle Busch -26

The Round of 12 in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is set to conclude next weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in Concord, North Carolina, where the second of three eliminations will occur and the Round of 8 field will be determined. The event is scheduled to commence next Sunday, October 8, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

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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