A 50th anniversary celebration indeed! It was only fitting that Ryan Blaney, an avid lover of NASCAR history, drove to Talladega Superspeedway’s new “old-school” style Gatorade Victory Lane after winning the 1000Bulbs.com 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Monday.
Better yet, Blaney, often seen wearing vintage motorsports apparel, also donned the red, white and blue horseshoe winner’s wreath in Gatorade Victory Lane, symbolic of the one worn by Richard Brickhouse after winning Talladega’s first-ever premier series event in 1969.
But, before he could celebrate with a throwback in modern world, Blaney was tooth-to-tooth with Ryan Newman at the finish, nipping him by merely 0.007 seconds to earn automatic advancement to the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Blaney (No. 12 Ford) led the field when the race restarted on Lap 187, two laps from completion. On the final lap, Newman (No. 6 Ford) took the lead with a strong outside run, aided by a push from behind by Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota); Blaney had his own deal going on the inside, with help from defending race champion Aric Almirola (No. 10 Ford).
Blaney used an inside move coming to the finish to barely cross the line in front of Newman for his first victory of the season. Approaching the line, the two cars were door-to-door, a real-life, 200-mph advertisement for the racing adage “rubbing is racing.”
“There was no blocking the 6 and the 11, they were coming so fast, so I decided to stay with Aric,” Blaney said. “We’ve been wanting to win races all year. This is a huge, huge win for us.”
Hamlin ended up third after starting from the rear of the field due to an engine change. Almirola finished fourth followed by Michael McDowell (No. 34 Ford). The victory was the seventh in the last 11 races for Team Penske (Brad Keselowski – 3 & Joey Logano – 3) at the mammoth 2.66-mile track, and the ninth out of 11 races for Ford.
Always-compelling Talladega was even more so Monday, when the race was resumed after rain on Sunday halted action with 57 laps of the scheduled 188 laps completed. Minutes before the inclement weather arrived, William Byron (No. 24 Chevrolet) had won the first of the race’s three stages.
The 1000Bulbs.com 500 was the second of three races in the Monster Energy Series Playoffs’ Round of 12 where 12 drivers are still in contention for the series championship. Following next week’s race at Kansas Speedway, the playoff field will be trimmed to eight drivers, including Blaney and Kyle Larson, who won the first Round of 12 event at Dover International Speedway on Oct. 6. Races at Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway will decide the Championship 4 that will vie in a one-race shootout for the series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.
The raucous race was divided into three stages – 55, 55 and 78 laps, with each stage’s top 10 finishers awarded valuable points that count in the series championship battle. Clint Bowyer (No. 14 Ford) took the second stage and benefited from a caution period that ran from 107 to the end of the stage on Lap 116.
Bowyer may have benefited from that caution but a number of others did not; it was caused by a Talladega trademark – the “Big One,” which in this instance was an 11-car incident in Turn 3. It started when Alex Bowman (No. 88 Chevrolet) blocked reigning Monster Energy Series champion Logano (No. 22 Ford). Contact with Logano sent Bowman spinning low, then coming back up into traffic. In addition to Logano, the ensuing carnage included cars driven by five others still alive in the playoffs – Bowman, Larson, polesitter Chase Elliott, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.
A second major, multi-car accident occurred on Lap 163 and once again, contenders – both in terms of the race and the series playoffs – were affected starting with Byron, who rammed into Logano after getting a push from Kurt Busch (No. 1 Chevrolet). A total of eight cars were involved.
“We were missing some big ones today,” Blaney said in the winner’s circle, a throwback to the track’s early years throughout the 1970s and mid 1980s where all winners came in nose-first instead of sideways. “This just means a ton … I’ve been coming here ever since I was really young. Watching dad (Dave Blaney) run here a lot, watching him run pretty good here a lot.
“Man, it’s a cool feeling. I love coming here. Love it even more now.”
The weekend was the culmination of the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar and featured the Talladega Garage Experience with rave reviews, allowing fans to be immersed into the sport like never before. BIG BILL’S 35,000 square foot Open Air Social Club was the centerpiece of it all, and fans of all ages had fun in the FREE Wi-Fi area, complete with games, photo opportunities, vintage race cars and $4 or less Value-Priced, mouth-watering concessions.
Talladega Superspeedway kicks off its 2020 season on April 24-26 with a tripleheader featuring the GEICO 500 (Monster Energy Cup Series), the MoneyLion 300 (NASCAR Xfinity Series) and General Tire 200 (ARCA Menards Series). For additional information, call 855-518-RACE (7223) or log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.