BLANEY BLOCKS FOR THE TALLADEGA WIN
Nobody loves Monday afternoon races a Talladega more than Ryan Blaney after picking up his second win at the track in said circumstances at one entertaining race in the Geico 500. The race began on Monday with Denny Hamlin in the pole position after rain once again ruined the day before. The race started fairly calm as Hamlin, Martin Truex, and Joey Logano all took the lead for a while until the competition caution came out. Logano kept the lead on the restart but lost it soon after to Ricky Stenhouse Jr who got loose and shuffled out; making it a three-wide battle for the lead. As the field stabled back into only two lines it was Penske vs the rest of field for the next few laps. Hamlin came up and scraped the wall and had a tire go down right as Tyler Reddick took the lead and the caution came out for rain hitting the track. After a lengthy red flag for the weather, the stage ended under caution, with Reddick as the winner, his first of his Cup career.
Everyone pitted for the stage two start, Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson were the first off. Bowman was pushed to keep the lead but Blaney went low and took it back as the field went three-wide again. Matt DiBenedetto caught up with the Penske Three and helped that crew get out ahead and start to make a big gap for a few laps until the lines begin to form again. The driving started to get sketchy through the field as everyone was believing that they were only driving to the halfway point of the race. The field kept trying to get into one line, but an outside line led by Bubba Wallace kept trying to form and move up. The field made it past the halfway point and the yellow waved soon after for John Hunter Nemechek spinning by himself and continuing on. Blaney was first out of the pits with two tires and got pushed ahead by Cole Custer on the green. Stenhouse and Bubba started the other two lanes and started competing for the lead; Stenhouse took the lead after Blaney got loose. Blaney then nearly got spun from behind and was somehow able to use the momentum to pass Stenhouse and take the lead back. With five to go in the stage, caution hit for a piece of debris on the track. On the green, there was a side by side race for the lead as William Byron came flying around in a new third lane; trying to hold everyone off got Blaney loose and made him just lose the stage win to Stenhouse.
The lineup got heavily changed under caution as Chris Buescher and Hamlin took the lead by staying out. Kevin Harvick pushed Buescher far enough out ahead to take the lead from him and compete with Chase Elliott to keep it. Suddenly, Matt Kenseth dove below the yellow line with a flat tire, breaking up the field some but not causing a caution. Blaney goes flying on the outside again with his teammates help, to go for the lead. Brad Keselowski then had a strong run while pushing Elliott and spun Elliott when he tried to avoid Logano who pulled a block on then. Chase hit the wall and got caught by Austin Dillon; two great runs ended early. The leaders stayed out and Blaney was back out ahead with Logano hooked up behind him. A caution for contact between Brennan Poole and Joey Gase near the back of the pack, both heavily damaged with Gase’s day done. With nearly everyone pitting, Christopher Bell and Erik Jones take the lead. Jones and Bell couldn’t get moving on the start and Harvick and Hamlin get out front for the lead. Logano then takes the lead as Bell is black flagged for forcing jones below the line and Kyle Bush nearly hits the wall and pits for a flat tire. Byron got to the lead and led the first seven cars away from the rest of the field.
A new second line led by Hamlin got to the front, but Hamlin was left behind as Wallace swooped low to take the lead in an emotional moment. Logano then used the top lane to get the lead again, setting off a back and forth battle between multiple drivers for the lead. With twenty laps to go, fuel started to become an issue for many of the drivers. Things settled as everyone was saving fuel with Reddick in the lead. A new line formed of all drivers who were saving fuel and it allowed Blaney to get to the lead battle. Blaney took the lead but the caution came out as Harvick went for a small gap and spun out Jimmie Johnson. With no damage to Johnson, it was a quick caution for an overtime start. Harvick got the lead on the start as Blaney had no help but Blaney was able to take back just in time for the last lap craziness. Blaney was ahead by himself as three lines came flying up to take the lead from him coming out of the final corner. Blaney came over to prevent Jones from passing him, Jones got into Nemechek and caused cars to fan out as Blaney and Stenhouse crossed the line in a photo finish and Aric Almirola slid across in third. The win is Blaney’s first of the year and his second win at Talladega.