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April 23, 2023

Overtime contact between Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney denies both in Talladega finish

TALLADEGA, Ala. — All’s fair in sharing among friends, and Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney have a deep-rooted relationship that dates back to their rise up the NASCAR ranks. With the stakes high at Talladega Superspeedway, the two longtime buddies had shared the lead for almost half of the Cup Series’ Sunday showdown but made contact that left both empty-handed in a double-overtime scramble.

The contest for the lead came down to the final lap of Sunday’s GEICO 500, and Wallace led at the drop of the white flag with Blaney in close quarters behind him. As Blaney attempted to mount a charge to the outside line through Turns 1 and 2, Wallace countered with multiple blocks to stem his progress.

RELATED: Official race results | At-track photos

Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford and Wallace’s No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota made repeated contact, which ended with Wallace’s car turned into the outside retaining wall. The collision also slowed Blaney enough to allow Kyle Busch’s No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to scoot into the lead. He was there when the caution period froze the field, relegating Blaney to second place.

Wallace finished 28th in the 38-car field, the first driver one lap down. He was evaluated and released after a quick check at the infield care center.

“Just got jumped by the 12. I pulled a late block – close, close, close block — and just that sent us around,” said Wallace, who led 35 laps — second only to Blaney’s 47. “Not the 12’s fault, just I honestly thought that he would leave me high and dry coming back around and so just hate it, hate it for my team. That’s how it goes. So that was our best, by far, (superspeedway) race that we’ve ever done, so hat’s off to the 23 group, Freddie (Kraft, his spotter) on top of the roof. Just a great day for us, just a crap result, so … hate it. I caused that one and man, I just thought it’d play out a little bit different, obviously not getting wrecked, but I thought the move would’ve happened coming off through the trioval.”

Blaney agreed with that version of events, saying he was in a difficult position where he couldn’t afford to stall out his momentum.

“I mean, it’s hard to block in these cars. I felt like he kind of triple-moved on me. Can’t really do that,” Blaney said. “I mean, he blocked the middle, blocked the bottom, blocked the top, and I’m there. I mean, I’m kind of there. It’s a shame he got turned, but I don’t know what else I can do besides slam on the brakes, and you can’t do that. So I’m not blaming anybody. I mean, it’s just hard racing. I mean, as the leader, I would have done the same thing, right? You’re trying to block and maintain the lead. So, but in second, I’ve gotta take every run I can get and keep my momentum. So yeah, just one of those things that stinks.”

MORE: Blaney expands on Wallace block

Both drivers are former Talladega winners, and the two looked the part again Sunday at various points. Wallace contended late, but spent most of his time up front during the first stage of the race. Blaney didn’t lead until the final stage, but that’s when his No. 12 Mustang was most stout.

As for their friendship, Blaney said those bonds only go so far during the pressure of competition.

“You never want to have someone turned off the front end of your nose, no matter what the situation is, and obviously you don’t want to do that to a friend,” Blaney said. “But you know, everyone’s competitors out there, and it’s not like I’m going to race Bubba any less hard than anyone else. We’re trying to beat him just as much as everybody else, so that definitely stinks when it’s your buddy. Maybe if it’s someone you don’t really like too much, you wouldn’t blink an eye at it, but when it’s your buddy, you’re just like, ‘Man, that just kind of stinks that one of us got turned.’ “

Wallace had sidestepped Busch’s No. 8 as the pack flashed under the white flag as the deciding overtime wound down. The No. 12 of Blaney was in his mirror then, as it had been at other points of the final stage. He was among Wallace’s top choices as a partner in the aerodynamic draft.

“Oh, when I saw the 12, I was pumped,” Wallace said. “We work well together obviously, every speedway race and that’s just the way it goes. Not the 12’s fault at all.”

Blaney came away with his fourth finish in the top two in the last eight Talladega races. He also tied his season-best result, matching the runner-up effort he had at Phoenix in March.

But still lingering was another statistic that’s hounded him – a winless skid that now stands at 56 races, and the thought of what else can he do to shake it.

“Every single day,” Blaney said. “Every single day.”