For those not around when Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed coming to the checkered flag in the 1979 Daytona 500 allowing third place driver Richard Petty to win, there is now the modern version.
Ryan Blaney won the inaugural Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday but was third coming to the checkered flag.
Martin Truex Jr. was leading being chased by Jimmie Johnson coming into the final chicane of the 17-turn road course. But Johnson desperate to break a 51-race winless streak and a guaranteed spot in the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs came into the final turns, spun and got into the back of Truex turning both.
As Truex and Johnson tried to recover, Blaney was able to avoid the carnage and charged past for the win.
Being the cutoff race to advance to the next round, Johnson tried desperately to recover and cross the line. He finished 8th, Truex was scored 14th.
The recovery was still not enough for Johnson to make it to the next round.
Kyle Larson who led a race high 47 laps and was in a position to win until a crash with 5 laps to go, limped his heavily damaged Chevy through the final few laps bounced off the wall twice coming to the line and passed Jeffrey Earnhardt to make up one spot and finish 25th.
That one spot created a three-way tie for the last cutoff spot between Larson, Johnson and Aric Almirola. The tiebreaker was the highest finish in the round of 16 leaving Johnson eliminated and Larson and Almirola moving on.
Also eliminated were Denny Hamlin who finished 12th, Erik Jones who was 30th and Austin Dillon who crashed out early and finished 39th.
The first race on the 2.88-mile hybrid road course encompassing the infield and the traditional oval at Charlotte was highly anticipated and lived up to that anticipation.
After taking the lead on lap 7, Larson was the class of the field early winning the first stage and leading a race high 47 laps.
Varying pit strategies and without a past history of the race to go on, led to a shuffling on the field as the goal of the playoff drivers was to avoid trouble and elimination. The first of the playoff drivers to see their title hopes end was Austin Dillon. This year’s Daytona 500 winner hit the wall once then again on lap 64. His Chevy was too heavily damaged, and he was forced to the garage.
“I just… really wasn’t a mistake by me,” Dillon said. “The No. 37 (Chris Buescher) through NASCAR (turns) 3 and 4 I don’t know if it was damage or what, he got loose and when he did I was on the outside of him and I lost it after I tried to miss him. I hit the right-side wall and the damage ended up cutting our right-front (tire) down.”
Erik Jones also struggled suffering a cut tire on lap 19 and never running towards the front; he finished 20th one lap down.
Denny Hamlin was expected to be competitive but a shredded tire on lap 5 left him deep in the field. He recovered to finish 11th but outside the cutoff.
Perhaps no one was as disappointed as Johnson. In the closing stages, Johnson was running near the front and above the cutoff line. His hopes for a race win were bolstered with a massive crash with 5 laps to go.
Brad Keselowski, already assured a spot in the next round thanks to his win at Vegas, was leading and in control on a restart. As the field was heading into turn 1, Keselowski on old tires slid straight into the wall; Larson in second was swept up but was able to continue despite heavy damage.
“The whole field went down into turn one it looked like and we all went straight,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know. Maybe we all overdrove it. Maybe the track had something on it. I don’t know. I got in the corner. I didn’t feel like I got in it, I got in hard, but not like ridiculously hard and it just locked up. I couldn’t get the tire to unlock, so I felt really, really dumb when I hit the wall and then I got back in the care center and saw the replay and saw everybody kind of did the same thing.”
Kyle Busch was among the others who suffered damage and was forced out of the race.
“I guess just comes down to us all being on old tires and not really knowing what to expect or how much grip these tires would actually have,” he said. “Just not having anything better to do than drive it off into a 90-degree corner and into a wall. That’s about all that happened – we all over-drove the corner and that’s all there is to it.”
NASCAR was forced to throw a red flag for 14 minutes for cleanup.
It led to the final restart that ended in heartbreak for Truex and Johnson and elation for Blaney.
“I was more worried about the win than anything else,” Johnson said. “I hate that I started wheel-hopping and took Martin (Truex, Jr.) and me out. That’s the last thing I wanted to do…Wins are so important. And the veteran could have taken a safe route and didn’t, and unfortunately took us out of the Playoffs and took out the No. 78 (Truex, Jr.)”
The win for Blaney was the second on his career.
“Tough weekend, just kind of avoided some stuff,” Blaney said after he climbed from his car. “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.
“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.”
Jamie McMurray was second, Clint Bowyer who struggled most of the day was third, with Alex Bowman who also spent much of the race outside the top 10 finished 4th. Pole sitter Kurt Busch was fifth.
Chase Elliott, A.J. Allmendinger, Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10.
In the Round of 12 the drivers moving on:
Martin Truex Jr.