Breaking a 59-race drought in Monday‘s rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Ryan Blaney gave team owner Roger Penske his first same-year sweep of IndyCar‘s biggest race and NASCAR‘s longest.
With a dominant No. 12 Team Penske Ford that gained long-run speed as the race progressed, Blaney led a race-high 163 of 400 laps and held off polesitter William Byron for his first victory on the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval and the eighth of his career.
A day after Josef Newgarden delivered Penske‘s 19th Indianapolis 500 victory with a last-lap pass, Blaney won for the first time since taking the checkered flag at Daytona on Aug. 28, 2021.
“I might shed a tear,” said Blaney, clearly emotional during his post-race interview on the frontstretch. “I just was able to get the lead, and that car was so good that I could kind of bide my time a little bit and then we were able to drive off. I was hoping no caution, just because you never know.
“I know we had the car to do it, but restarts can be crazy… You start to get to feel like you can’t win anymore when you don’t win in a while. It kind of gets hard. So just super thankful to the 12 guys for believing in me…
“It‘s just so cool. What a weekend with Newgarden and Roger winning at Indy and us winning the 600. I mean that‘s just so cool. That kind of snaps our winless streak right there, and that‘s even better.”
After a spate of cautions late in the race, Blaney led the field to green with 20 laps left and built a one-second lead over Byron before winning by .663 seconds. Martin Truex Jr. ran third ahead of 23XI Racing teammates Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick.
Blaney won the race‘s third stage and is second in the NASCAR Cup Series standings, one point behind Ross Chastain, who finished 22nd.
Byron, who collected his eighth top-10 finish this season, pursued Blaney for the final 20 laps, but to no avail.
“We just needed a little bit,” said Byron, who led 91 laps and repeatedly regained the top spot from the No. 1 pit stall in a race that featured 16 cautions for 83 laps. “Really happy for Ryan. He really deserves it. He’s a good dude. Cool to see him get a win…
“The car was great tonight. Just not quite good enough. Really proud of the effort. Pit crew was phenomenal on pit road. Those guys are just high energy, and that pit stall helps… Just proud of where our team is at. Just needed a little bit more.”
The wreck that set up the final 20-lap green-flag run was one of the race‘s most severe. Kyle Larson slid sideways and after a restart on Lap 375 and bounced off other front-running cars like a pinball. Collected in the wreck were Christopher Bell, who had shown early speed; Ty Gibbs; Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.
Just as significant was an accident on Lap 185 that knocked defending race winner Denny Hamlin and five-time most popular driver Chase Elliott out of the race.
After Hamlin crowded Elliott‘s No. 9 Chevrolet into the outside wall, Elliott hooked Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota on the frontstretch. Hamlin‘s car bounced off the wall after a brutal impact and collected Elliott‘s Camaro on the rebound.
Both cars were damaged too severely to continue.
Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart were convinced Elliott turned Hamlin‘s Camry in retaliation.
“It‘s a tantrum and he shouldn‘t be racing next week,” Hamlin said after exiting the infield care center. “Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don‘t care. It is the same thing that Bubba Wallace did with Kyle Larson. Exact same. He shouldn‘t be racing. It‘s a tantrum.”
Elliott denied the incident was intentional on his part.
“No, like I said, once you hit the wall in these things, you can‘t drive them anymore,” Elliott said. “So, no, just unfortunate circumstances.”
— NASCAR News Wire —
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