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Ryan Blaney wins wild Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney celebrates in Victory Lane at Charlotte after winning the ROVAL race.
(NASCAR Photo)

Penske driver Ryan Blaney “crashed” the big party, so to speak. The party being the final lap of the Bank of America ROVAL 400.

With less than one lap to go, it was a racing party dominated and being fought for by two veteran drivers, 2017 Series Champ Martin Truex, Jr and seven time champion, Jimmie Johnson.

For a moment it appeared that Johnson would have the upper hand over Truex, surging forward and working the nose of his Hendrick Chevy Camaro to the inside of Truex’s Furniture Row Toyota and clinching the lead.

After all, it had been 51 races without a victory for the seven time champ and a win would be vindication for a dismal season of near misses and DNF’s.

Then it happened.

Johnson spun, collected Truex as he slid across the asphalt between Turns 16 and 17, hitting  Truex and sending him  toward the outside wall in the tri-oval.

Then along came Blaney.

Sounds like an old sixties song title but with a modern day twist. Seeing the last lap malay in front of him, Blaney drove the No. 12 Team Penske Ford between the two wrecked stock cars and crossed the finish line .792 seconds ahead of runner-up Jamie McMurray.

Two big wrecks before the end of the race on a generally quiet day on the ROVAL course. For Blaney, it was his first win of the year, the second of his young career and punching his golden ticket to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Monster Cup Series playoffs.

“Tough weekend, just kind of avoided some stuff,” Blaney said following the race. “You hate to see two guys get into it there and take out two of the best cars all day. But that’s racing sometimes.”

The Penske driver made no excuses on the win. One could say that he was simply “Blaney on the spot” when the time was right.

“We were just at the right spot at the right time. It’s cool to be in Victory Lane and move on to the next round,” replied the driver of the Number 12, Penske Racing Ford.

Not so lucky were four drivers who were on the proverbial bubble heading into Charlotte and left America’s Home for Racing, empty-handed except for the damage to their race cars in the final few laps. Joining the race winner into the Round of 12 were Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex.

Other drivers advancing to the next round include Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Alex Bowman. Bowyer ran third on Sunday, followed up by Bowman, Kurt Busch, Elliott and AJ Allmendinger.

But as previously mentioned, the day was not good one for the seven time cup champ.

Despite the wreck and finishing eighth, Johnson ended the event tied for 11th in the playoff standings with Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson.  Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson picked up the final two berths into the Round of 12 on a tiebreaker based on the best finish in the current round.

According to NASCAR Math, Larson was second at Las Vegas, and Almirola took fifth place at Richmond. Johnson’s best result was the eighth at Charlotte, leaving him shut out of the playoffs along with Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, as the drivers eliminated from Monster Energy Playoff contention.

Johnson was visibly upset talking to reporters after the race and expressed his disappointment with the result and on the other end of the spectrum, despite being locked in to the next round, Martin Truex, Jr. was disappointed with his 14th place finish and expressing his frustration and sentiment in another way..

“Last corner, desperation behind us, that’s what you get,” said Truex. “I gave him (Johnson) the inside lane, and he had the run through (Turn 4), and I was real tight down there. I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of 4 there to the chicane.”

Truex continued in his post race comments saying that “He (Johnson) just over-drove it and was never going to make it and he used me as brakes and turned us both around. It sucks. We could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win, and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”

The other big wreck involved Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, William Byron and Kyle Busch.  With seven to go, Brad Keselowski’s Penske Ford locked the brakes and his Ford overshoots Heartburn Turn One and hits the safer barrier head on.

The bounce back of Keselowski’s Ford from the safety wall springs back onto the track and tags Stage One winner  Kyle Larson and then collects Paul Menard as he crashes back into Keselowski.  The event is red lagged with six to go and lasts upward of 14 minutes.

Kyle Busch was also collected in another Heartburn Turn related wreck taking him out of contention for the win. Despite Truex taking the lead,

Keselowski reflected coming out of the infield care center that perhaps “maybe we overdrove it, maybe there was something on it (the track).”

“It’s frustrating,” replied Keselowski. “This car was a rocket…thought we were going to win today, tough day.”

Kyle Busch was more succinct in his assessment of the wreck and its aftermath. “I got stuck but it didn’t matter to us. If we hadn’t of been knocked out, it was a race between us and the 78 but it doesn’t matter now.”

The event was red flagged for 14 minutes while crews repaired Heartburn Turn One and cleaned up. In total, there seven cautions for the race.

The Bank of America ROVAL 400 saw Kyle Larson take the stage one win and race winner Ryan Blaney, stage two and the final stage events.

When asked about the race and the events that unfollowed, Kyle Larson summed it the best with a short comment about the race and the end result for the Chip Ganassi team.

“I’m just happy to make the next round,” replied Larson with a sheepish smile.

By Rod Mullins | Augusta Free Press

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