Ryan Blaney beat Ryan Newman in a door-to-door race to the finish line to win Monday and advance to the third round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Blaney’s first win of the season came as he was in danger of getting eliminated from title contention. The playoff field will be trimmed from 12 drivers to eight next weekend at Kansas. Blaney had little margin for error after he had mechanical issues at Dover last weekend and finished 35th.
Blaney joins Kyle Larson in the round of eight, with six spots still available.
Blaney was the leader on a restart with two laps remaining and had a huge push from fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola to gain space on the field. Then Newman came charging along on the outside line with help from Denny Hamlin and he easily zipped past Blaney.
But the Ford train remained committed and Blaney got another push from Almirola to pull alongside Newman. The two raced door-to-door to the finish line, with Blaney winning by a nose. The 0.0070-second margin of victory was the sixth-closest in the history of Talladega, which celebrated its 50th anniversary all weekend.
The win capped a remarkable weekend for the Penske organization, which on Saturday claimed the IMSA overall sports car championship with Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya, and then in Australia won the Bathurst 1000 with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard.
Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron are all below the cutline, as is Kansas native Clint Bowyer, who could be eliminated at his home track.
The race was stopped with seven laps remaining after an accident at the front of the field.
Stenhouse and Kyle Busch were side-drafting for the lead when Busch suddenly spun to the right, directly into title contender Brad Keselowski. The chain reaction caused Brendan Gaughan’s car to flip over the car of Kurt Busch and land on its wheels.
Keselowski’s car was destroyed, but he got it rolling down pit road for the sole purpose of passing Gaughan and Martin Truex Jr. in the running order, gaining two more points that very well could be needed next week when the playoff field is cut.
The elimination race of the third round of the playoffs is Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Elliott is the defending race winner, and Keselowski won the spring race.