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Wednesday July 15th, 2020 12:53AM

Blaney wins by inches on emotional day at Talladega

By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
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An event that began with a massive show of support for Bubba Wallace ended with one of Wallace’s best friends, Ryan Blaney, celebrating in Victory Lane for the second straight race at Talladega Superspeedway.

In a frenetic overtime dash, Blaney won Monday’s GEICO 500 by .007 seconds over Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. as crashing cars bounced of each other and the outside wall behind the top two finishers. The victory was Blaney’s first of the season, second straight at the 2.66-mile track and the fourth of his career.

It was a day that started ominously — and not because of the rain clouds that threatened to delay the race for a second straight day and in fact caused a stoppage of 57 minutes, 18 seconds after 57 laps were complete on Monday.

News that a noose had been discovered Sunday evening in the garage stall of Wallace, the NASCAR Cup Series’ only African-American driver, dominated national headlines and brought strong statements of condemnation from both NASCAR and team owner Richard Petty.

Drivers and their crews assembled before the race to escort Wallace and his car to the head of the grid. The lasting image of the pre-race was Wallace being embraced by a succession of his fellow competitors.

Nearly five hours later, Wallace was congratulating Blaney in Victory Lane after a scintillating conclusion that saw Blaney knocking the Toyota of Eric Jones into the outside wall as the cars approached the finish line — and still managing to beat Stenhouse to the stripe by roughly 12 inches.

“I just kind of blocked, just trying to block the best we could,” Blaney said. “Ride the top, ride the bottom. The 20 (Jones) got to my outside, and I tried to go up there to slow him down and… I’m not sure, I don’t know… three-wide, I hate that I hit him, but just kind of trying to beat and bang to the line and things like that.

“We just edged it out, but I’m really proud of this whole Menards/Sylvania Ford Mustang team. It’s been a cool year so far, and I’m really excited to get our first win of the year at a cool place. Thank you everybody for coming… That was a lot of fun.”

Ford drivers have won nine of the last 10 Talladega Cup races.

Aric Almirola slid sideways across the finish line to claim third place, with Denny Hamlin and Jones following in fourth and fifth, respectively. Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, John Hunter Nemechek, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.

Wallace, who spearheaded efforts within the sport to ban the Confederate flag from NASCAR events, climbed from his car after a 14th-place finish and saluted fans who gathered at the catchfence to greet him. As the next phase of the reopening of the sport, 5,000 fans were allowed to attend the race.

“The sport is changing,” Wallace said, as he stood in front of the first grandstand. “The deal that happened yesterday… I wanted to show whoever it was that you’re not going to take away my smile. I’m going to keep on going. I’ve been a part of this sport for a really long time…

“All in all, we won today. The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life, from all the supporters, from drivers and crew members and everybody here. It’s truly incredible, and I’m proud to be a part of this sport.”

Stenhouse said that the fans were chanting for Wallace before the start of the race, loud enough for the drivers to hear it on pit road.

Notes: Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader Tyler Reddick won the first stage under caution after the rain delay, his first stage win in the Cup series… Stenhouse won Stage 2 before losing the race in a photo finish… The final lap featured a wild melee in turns 3 and 4 before cars careened out of control at the finish line… Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was instrumental in organizing the pre-race show of support for Wallace.

NASCAR Cup Series
Talladega Superspeedway – Talladega, AL
GEICO 500 – June 23, 2020

1. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 191.
2. (20) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chevrolet, 191.
3. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 191.
4. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 191.
5. (18) Erik Jones, Toyota, 191.
6. (21) Chris Buescher, Ford, 191.
7. (8) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 191.
8. (22) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 191.
9. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 191.
10. (5) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 191.
11. (19) William Byron, Chevrolet, 191.
12. (33) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 191.
13. (4) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 191.
14. (24) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 191.
15. (31) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 191.
16. (25) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 191.
17. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 191.
18. (26) Michael McDowell, Ford, 191.
19. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 191.
20. (16) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 191.
21. (39) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 191.
22. (28) Cole Custer #, Ford, 191.
23. (1) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 191.
24. (14) Ryan Newman, Ford, 191.
25. (10) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 190.
26. (23) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 190.
27. (32) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 190.
28. (37) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 190.
29. (35) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 190.
30. (29) Gray Gaulding(i), Ford, 190.
31. (30) B.J. McLeod, Chevrolet, 190.
32. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 189.
33. (38) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 185.
34. (40) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 185.
35. (27) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, Accident, 178.
36. (34) J.J. Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 178.
37. (36) Joey Gase(i), Ford, Accident, 141.
38. (11) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 135.
39. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 133.
40. (13) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, Rear Hub, 127.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 146.933 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 27 Mins, 28 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.007 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 33 laps.

Lead Changes: 56 among 19 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M. Truex Jr 1-4;D. Hamlin 5-7;J. Logano 8-10;D. Hamlin 11-14;J. Logano 15-17;D. Hamlin 18-22;J. Logano 23-26;M. DiBenedetto 27;J. Logano 28-35;K. Busch 36;J. Logano 37-39;W. Byron 40;D. Hamlin 41-42;J. Logano 43;D. Hamlin 44-45;A. Bowman 46;J. Logano 47-49;A. Bowman 50;J. Logano 51;T. Reddick # 52;J. Logano 53-55;T. Reddick # 56-60;R. Newman 61;A. Bowman 62-64;R. Blaney 65;J. Johnson 66;K. Busch 67;R. Blaney 68-69;K. Busch 70-71;R. Blaney 72-73;K. Busch 74;R. Blaney 75-96;B. Poole # 97;R. Blaney 98-105;R. Stenhouse Jr 106;R. Blaney 107-111;R. Stenhouse Jr 112;R. Blaney 113-118;R. Stenhouse Jr 119-121;C. Buescher 122-125;K. Harvick 126;R. Preece 127;C. Elliott 128-130;D. Hamlin 131;R. Blaney 132-142;C. Bell # 143-146;D. Hamlin 147;J. Logano 148-150;W. Byron 151-160;B. Wallace 161;J. Logano 162;R. Preece 163-164;A. Bowman 165-171;T. Reddick # 172-184;R. Blaney 185-189;K. Harvick 190;R. Blaney 191.

Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) Ryan Blaney 10 times for 63 laps; Joey Logano 11 times for 33 laps; Tyler Reddick # 3 times for 19 laps; Denny Hamlin 7 times for 18 laps; Alex Bowman 4 times for 12 laps; William Byron 2 times for 11 laps; Kyle Busch 4 times for 5 laps; Ricky Stenhouse Jr 3 times for 5 laps; Martin Truex Jr 1 time for 4 laps; Christopher Bell # 1 time for 4 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 4 laps; Ryan Preece 2 times for 3 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 3 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 2 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 1 lap; Brennan Poole # 1 time for 1 lap; Matt DiBenedetto 1 time for 1 lap; Jimmie Johnson 1 time for 1 lap; Ryan Newman 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 8,88,22,48,18,12,2,1,9,24

Stage #2 Top Ten: 47,12,18,2,95,22,43,41,17,24

Top 10 in Points: 1. Kevin Harvick – 490 (2 Wins); 2. Joey Logano – 467 (2 Wins); 3. Ryan Blaney – 465 (1 Win); 4. Chase Elliott – 458 (1 Win); 5. Brad Keselowski – 441 (2 Wins); 6. Denny Hamlin – 428 (3 Wins); 7. Martin Truex, Jr. – 424 (1 Win); 8. Alex Bowman – 419 (1 Win); 9. Kyle Busch – 378; 10. Kurt Busch – 369.

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