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October 1, 2023

Ryan Blaney scores clutch Talladega win to lock into Round of 8

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford crossed the finish line about a foot ahead of Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford to claim victory in a thrilling final 10-lap push to the checkered flag on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

With the win — Blaney’s third at Talladega — he punched his ticket to the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Blaney led eight laps but was out front in the final two laps to secure the win over Harvick, whose car was disqualified during post-race technical inspection for violating rules involving windshield fasteners. It’s Blaney’s second win of the season and the ninth of his career.

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“I don’t really know, pretty wild last restart, let alone last couple laps,” Blaney said of the frantic finish. “Kinda lost momentum, then getting it back, got clear to the bottom to kind of get to the front row and drag race it out with Kevin (Harvick). It’s so cool to win here three times at Talladega.

“I won it by more than I had the last couple years,” Blaney said with a laugh. “You just don’t know. You have to drag race to the line and hope you get help. William (Byron) gave me a pretty good shove on the bottom.”

With Harvick’s disqualification, playoff drivers Byron and Denny Hamlin finished second and third, respectively. Corey LaJoie was fourth for his third career top-five finish as he came across just ahead of a multicar accident with Austin Cindric, who finished fifth.

Justin Haley, Chase Elliott, Ryan Preece, Riley Herbst — making only his fourth career Cup Series start — and Daniel Suárez rounded out the top 10.

MORE: Race results | At-track photos: Talladega

It was an action-packed day at Talladega, with 70 lead changes among 24 drivers. Blaney’s teammate, Joey Logano, led the most laps (48) but finished 24th.

Seven drivers led double-digit laps, but only one of those — Byron — was a playoff driver.

Hamlin’s third-place effort was especially impressive, considering he was issued a pit-road penalty mid-race and had to recover from being a lap down.

“Not how we drew it up, but a dub (W) is a dub, and that was a dub in our book,” Hamlin said. “As close as it gets to it. I made a statement, bringing me a car fast enough for us to win. And obviously, when I had to go there, I could, and just made the right moves at the right time, and a top five is a long way from where we were with about 15 laps to go.”

Blaney joined last week’s Texas winner Byron with victories in this three-race playoff round to earn a position in the Round of 8. Hamlin’s rally, after running outside the top 20 for much of the middle of the race, keeps his position atop the playoff standings (50 points up on the elimination line).

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Brad Keselowski, one of two playoff drivers to suffer a DNF on Sunday, still holds a slim two-point edge on Tyler Reddick for the eighth and final transfer position going into next week’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, who was involved in an early-race accident and suffered his first DNF of the playoffs, dropped below the elimination line for the first time this round and is now in 11th place, 10 points back.

Chastain is one point behind 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, a former Talladega race winner who finished 23rd on Sunday. His team co-owner, NBA superstar Michael Jordan, met up with Wallace on pit road after the race, offering a handshake, pat on the back and some encouraging words.

Two-time series champion Kyle Busch finds himself in a catch-up role, essentially needing a walk-off victory next week at the road course. He finished 25th and sits 26 points behind eighth-place Keselowski.

The Bank of America ROVAL 400 is next Sunday afternoon at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App). Christopher Bell is the defending race winner.

Note: Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was the only car found with an issue in post-race inspection, confirming Blaney as the event winner. Four cars will be taken to the NASCAR R&D Center for engine dynamometer testing: No. 24 (Hendrick), No. 11 (TRD), No. 31 (ECR) and No. 41 (RYE).