Ryan Blaney wins at Talladega to advance in playoffs

Kevin Harvick was later disqualified after being edged by the winner at the finish line

Ryan Blaney (12) pulls into the lead on the last lap to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega. (Julie Bennett / AP Photo)

TALLADEGA, Ala. — In a battle of Ford drivers, Ryan Blaney held off Kevin Harvick at the Talladega Superspeedway finish line to advance into the round of eight of the Cup Series playoffs.

Harvick, who is retiring at the end of the year, remained winless on the season and was disqualified after the race when his car failed inspection.

Blaney used a crossover move from the outside lane to the inside to nudge ahead of Harvick with two laps remaining. Blaney in his Ford for Team Penske and Harvick in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing finished essentially in a drag race with both drivers refusing to lift as a crash broke out behind them.

“I’ve won it by more than I have the last couple years. That one might have been by 4 feet, the others were by 2 but you just don’t know,” said Blaney, a three-time winner at Talladega. “You just kind of drag race a line and hope you get help.”

Blaney joined William Byron as the two drivers locked into the round of eight. The field of 12 will be pared next Sunday to eight following the race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney boss Roger Penske praised the strategy of the Ford camp to work together to ensure a Ford victory as the Chevrolets from Hendrick Motorsports were making a quick challenge.

“For Harvick, who it was his last race here, working like he did with Ryan, it was amazing to see that,” said Penske. “The Hendrick freight train was coming and we all stayed together, that was the call that Ford had earlier in the day when we talked. It was just perfect execution.”

Ford has won 10 playoff races at Talladega, most at any track, and Team Penske has won 10 of the last 18 races at the 2.66-mile Alabama oval.

Blaney, winner of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May, now has multiple wins in a season for the second time in his career. But he’s got a lopsided stat this season in that he has only five top-five finishes, but two wins.

“It was a pretty wild restart, let alone the last couple of laps, losing momentum and getting it back, just getting clear to the bottom to get to the front row and drag race it out with Kevin,” said Blaney. “To win here three times at Talladega is super cool.”

Harvick finished second as his winless streak stretched to 43 races dating back to last season. NASCAR said nearly two hours after the race that his Ford had been disqualified because the fasteners on his windshield were not secure.

The Harvick disqualification dropped him to last in the field. Byron, in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, moved up to second and Denny Hamlin, who rallied from a lap down, moved up to third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin led three laps during the second stage but was flagged for speeding on pit road — a troubling habit of the three-time Daytona 500 winner considered the best driver to never win a Cup championship — and the penalty contributed to him falling a lap off the pace. It was Hamlin’s fourth speeding penalty of the season, and it took him most of the race to earn his position back on the lead lap and then drove through the field to secure his finish.

“Not how we drew it up, but a dub is a dub and that was a dub in our book — it’s as close as it gets to it,” Hamlin said. “A top-five is a long way from where we were with about 15 laps to go.”

Corey LaJoie, who is not in the playoffs, moved up to fourth in a Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports. Blaney teammate Austin Cindric moved to fifth.