TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Ryan Blaney beat Kevin Harvick to the Talladega Superspeedway finish line by 0.012 seconds Sunday to advance into the round of eight of NASCAR’s playoffs and keep Harvick winless in his final season before retirement.
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.
“Pretty wild last restart, let alone last couple laps, losing momentum, getting it back, drag racing it out with Kevin,” said Blaney, who has won three times now at Talladega.
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.
Harvick finished second and was followed by Byron in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Denny Hamlin 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.
Corey LaJoie, who is not in the playoffs, 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, and were 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 Keselowski, caused damage to Talladega’s outer wall and stopped all action under a red flag.
CHASTAIN CRASHES OUT
Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano last year in the championship race, finished last Sunday after a collision with fellow title contenders Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell on the final lap of the first stage.
Chastain entered Talladega, the middle race of the round of 12, ranked sixth in the Cup standings and 12 points above the cutline. His last-place finish dropped him below the cutline and forced him into a high-pressure situation next week on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Chastain has struggled in his four previous starts on Charlotte’s hybrid road course/oval track. His best finish is 22nd.
“Left and right,” he said when asked how he expects next week to go. “I’m living my dream, so whatever our team brings next week, we’ll put our best foot forward. As long as I’m getting to drive these rocket ships that Trackhouse brings me, I’m living my dream and we’ll keep fighting.”
NASCAR races next Sunday on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Christopher Bell won last year to avoid playoff elimination.
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