By Dustin Albino

Dating back to the 2021 regular season finale at Daytona, Ryan Blaney has a goose egg in the win column. Following Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Blaney is going to be second guessing some of his moves late in the race.

“I‘ll look at it pick out a few things I probably should have done different, wish I would have done different,” Blaney said following the race. “It‘s easy to say that now.”

After the final cycle of green flag pit stops concluded, Blaney found himself leading the pack. With Ross Chastain in close pursuit and a fuel window that got the No. 12 Ford to the end of the race, Blaney controlled the race in the top lane.

With less than 10 laps remaining, Erik Jones passed Blaney for the lead. And when a caution came out with six laps left for Daniel Hemric’s stalled car near the exit of pit road, the No. 43 car was ahead of the No. 12 machine. Jones could dictate the restart.

Jones elected to pick the top lane with a two-lap dash to settle the race, with Chastain in close pursuit. Blaney would restart on the bottom line with Michael McDowell lined up behind him.

“I was fine lining up bottom or top,” Blaney said. “Working with Ross for a while, I knew he would push good. Michael could push good, too. I really didn‘t care where we were going to line up.

“Got a good push — too good of a push on the restart — and got the damn [No.] 9 clear.”

A shove from McDowell propelled Blaney to the lead as the field took the white flag. Chase Elliott got clear of Jones, leading the outside lane. On the final lap, Elliott was able to get by for the lead, only for Blaney to get one more shot in the tri-oval. Moving to the outside of the No. 9 car, Blaney came up .046 seconds shy of a third win at Talladega.

“I think the only thing I probably would have done different was realize [Denny Hamlin] was laying off [McDowell] in the middle of [Turns] 3 and 4 and faded back with them. It just happened really quick. It probably would have come to the checkered. I don‘t know if it would have won me the race or not, but got back to the bottom. Do the fake high, go low.”

Blaney was in a similar position in the first stage. He was able to earn the stage win by passing Hamlin on the outside with a push from Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric.

In the second stage, Blaney had a close call with Brad Keselowski at the front of the field. Believing he might wreck, the No. 12 car bailed on the field and dropped to the rear. Blaney finished 17th in the second stage.

When Blaney pitted for the final time with 28 laps remaining, interim crew chief Samuel Stanley chose to put just enough fuel in the car to get to the finish. Not much more.

During the final caution, Blaney admitted to thinking about his points position. With a fourth-place run at Texas to kick off the Round of 12, he entered Talladega with a 22-point buffer on the cutline.

But when the race restart, it was every man for themselves.

“We got going green and you want to turn into race-win mode,” he added. “For a moment, I thought it would be nice to lineup on the front row; I just don‘t want to get wrecked, I don‘t want to get turned.”

Now, Blaney enters the Charlotte ROVAL — where he won the inaugural race at in 2018 — second on the playoff grid, 32 points above the cutline.

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