TALLADEGA, Ala — Ryan Blaney came inches short of an automatic berth to the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The Team Penske driver led Sunday’s YellaWood 500 7 times for 31 laps including the white flag lap, but was passed by friend Chase Elliott within a mile from the finish line to instead prevail the 2nd race of the 2nd round and dropping Blaney down to a bridesmaid.
He was the top driver on the inside lane with drafting help from Ford driver Michael McDowell. Denny Hamlin was pushing McDowell behind that. Elliott was leading the outside lane with drafting help via Erik Jones and Ross Chastain.
It was a drag race from Turn 3 on. Both were side-by-side with a high speed pace lap. McDowell pushed Blaney to the top spot but Elliott was getting a bigger push from Jones which with enough momentum and energy on the high line, Elliott prevailed.
Blaney finished .046-seconds from what would have been his first win of the season but instead, the only winless driver to make this year’s playoff field is sitting in a great spot heading to the final race of the round at +32.
“Yeah, I definitely thought about it,” Blaney said on if he should have blocked Elliott’s run. “The second lane was kind of the strongest, like, definitely the second half of the race. I thought about it. But when you go to the middle and you don’t have a Ford or teammate behind you, your chances of getting split are just so high.
“As much as I trust Chase, I don’t trust him not to take me three-wide and leave me in the middle. I just chose to stay down in front of Michael and he was awesome at pushing me the last restart, giving me great shots. Just a little bit too late.
“Maybe I could have faked the top, gone to the bottom on the front stretch. I don’t know if I would have got there anyway.
“Overall not a bad day. I’m probably going to replay in my head five different things I could have done different, but overall not a bad day. Appreciate Menards, Dutch Boy, Ford for what they do.”
Blaney was hoping to become the 3rd straight driver to win here from the 19th starting spot but comes just short. This was his 3rd top 2 result in his last 7 Talladega tries including 4 top 10’s in this span. He had 2 top 10’s in his 10 races prior here.
It was also Blaney’s 2nd straight top 5 and 3rd top 10 in the last 4 races run on the season giving him a lot of momentum heading to the Charlotte ROVAL.
Blaney is a previous winner there and has finished 8th, 5th and 9th respectively since. He also has a pair of 6th place finishes on road courses this season as well.
“I’m happy we’re in a decent spot on points, but we really want to win, though.”