Blaney takes checkered flag at Talladega
NASCAR completed its overtime Talladega Cup race in typical, thrilling superspeedway fashion despite a one-day postponement and hour-long delay for weather Monday.
With three laps to go, Kevin Harvick raced to the inside of Jimmie Johnson running in second place, spinning out the No. 48 driver and forcing the eighth caution of the race. Teams were then forced to make a call to either pit or stay out as many dwindled on fuel.
Winner Ryan Blaney stayed out - racing to the inside of Harvick, who led the field with two laps to go on the restart - and edged ahead of the field running three cars wide at the finish.
Blaney then emerged to a screaming crowd of about 5,000 fans, the loudest the grandstands have been since NASCAR postponed its season in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's been a cool year so far and really excited to get our first win of the year at a cool place," Blaney said on FOX after the race.
"We were just riding around until maybe 12 (laps) to go," Blaney said. "I was waiting for Kevin (Harvick) to kinda go, but he had to save more (fuel) than I did, so we just kind of had to get going. You're just biding your time and hoping you save enough."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished in second place and Aric Almirola finished third.
Still, no amount of thrilling lead changes - and there were plenty - 200 mile per hour drafting and cheers could fully brighten the event that occurred Sunday afternoon and cast a shadow much more menacing than rain clouds over the sport.
Because a noose was found in Bubba Wallace's car garage stall on Sunday. A noose. In 2020.
"As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR," the sport's president Steve Phelps reiterated during a call with reporters just before Monday's race. "And this act only strengthens our resolve to make this sport open and welcoming to all."
The sanctioning body launched an investigation with the FBI to determine who committed the hateful act, while providing heightened security at the track Monday. FBI officials were also on site to begin the investigation process, which includes reviewing video footage from the No. 43 garage stall and cross-checking lists of the limited personnel with access to the area.
The superspeedway race ran to completion and included first-time stage wins this season for two drivers - Cup Series rookie Tyler Reddick and Stenhouse Jr., respectively. The race was also capped by a thrilling finish for the overtime race that included two- and three-wide driving out front for a majority of the 190 laps.
Despite the intense racing usually reserved for superspeedways, the event could have used more Wallace, who finished in 14th after briefly leading the field during the final stage and running in third with five laps to go.
The highlight of the afternoon came before engines were fired, when the entire garage - including all 40 drivers and their teams - pushed the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet to the front of the grid to show their support for the sport's only Black driver.
Wallace, in tears, accepted hugs from his fellow Cup competitors before the group stood around him for the national anthem. Team owner Richard Petty traveled to Talladega Superspeedway for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic to stand beside the driver and offer his support.
Although he started the race in tears, he ended with a smile. Wallace emerged from his car after the race, grabbed a water bottle and walked over to the fans donning "Black Lives Matter" t-shirts and cheering on the driver. Wallace high-fived his supporters for the moment he called "probably the most badass."
"The sport is changing," Wallace said over the fans chanting his name. "The deal that happened yesterday - sorry I'm not wearing my mask - but I wanted to show whoever it was that you're not going to take away my smile."
"I'm gonna keep on going."