EditorsNote: Adds quotes, changes to write-thru story type
Ryan Blaney successfully navigated his way through a final-lap wreck that claimed the top two drivers, took the lead and went on to win the Bank of America Roval 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s infield road course.
The victory at Concord, N.C., in the cutoff event of the first round of the playoffs gave Blaney automatic entry into the Round of 12 of the 10-race playoffs, which resume next weekend in Dover, Del.
“I didn’t expect that,” Blaney said.
The win was the Team Penske driver’s first of the season.
“You hate to see two of the best cars wreck,” Blaney said, “but you just try to capitalize on the circumstances given to you. We were in the right spot (running third) at the right time.”
The last-lap wreck occurred on the final turn and involved leader Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who was running second and charging for his first win of 2018.
Johnson’s aggressive move cost him a berth in the second round of the playoffs and a shot at a record eighth championship.
“I was more worried about the win than anything else,” Johnson, who would have advanced had he finished second, said. “It started wheel-hopping and took Martin and I out. That was the last thing I wanted.
“We were in the transfer position and we didn’t get it. Just going for the win. These wins are so important.”
Another key moment in the race came on a restart with six laps to go. That was when leader Brad Keselowski of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson wrecked heading into Turn 1. Both drivers locked up as they attempted to brake for the corner but instead slid into the wall.
Also caught up was contender Kyle Busch, who was running fourth.
“The whole field went down in Turn 1, and it looked like we all went straight,” Keselowski said. “Maybe we all over-drove it or maybe the track had something on it. I don’t know.”
The Sunday event was the first Cup race at the 17-turn, 2.28-mile circuit carved from the infield at the 1.5-mile CMS oval. And, most critically, it was the cutoff race for those hoping to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Advancing into the Round of 12 were Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing and Keselowski (both by way of securing race wins in the first round), defending series champ Truex of Furniture Row Racing, Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, Penske’s Joey Logano, Kurt Busch of SHR, Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, Blaney, Clint Bowyer of SHR, Alex Bowman of Hendrick, Larson and SHR’s Aric Almirola.
Cut from the playoffs were Johnson, Erik Jones of JGR, Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing and Denny Hamlin of JGR.
—Field Level Media