Ryan Blaney won a memorable race at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday, edging Ryan Newman by .007th of a second in what was the sixth-closest margin of victory in track history.
With the win, Blaney also clinched a spot in the third round of NASCAR’s Cup playoffs. He joins Dover winner Kyle Larson as the only drivers who know they’ll be among the eight who will advance after this week’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway. Blaney had finished 35th at Dover and was in 12th place in the 12-driver playoff standings heading into Talladega.
Blaney spoke with reporters after Monday’s race:
Q. After last week having the suspension issue and being pretty buried coming in here, how much of a relief is it, no stress at Kansas?
“It’s huge. I mean, after last week, having that trouble with some parts breaking, our mindset was really we had to win one of these two races. We were so far back in points. I know Talladega is a wild card. It’s nice to get a win and lock you into the next round for sure. You still go out and try to win Kansas. You’re not relaxing in Kansas. Still try to go out and win that race.”
Q. The outlook for the Round of 8, there are tracks you’ve been decent at. Knowing there’s three guys with a points buffer, do you feel you’re going to have to win one of those races to make sure you’re at Homestead?
“I definitely think so. You kind of see the last couple years, there’s a few guys that have a pretty big points lead from having phenomenal regular seasons, with bonus points and things like that.
“You’ve got to win the race to win the championship at Homestead. You better get used to trying to win big races. Wins have kind of eluded us this year after I felt like we should have had two or three already. It was nice to put one together.”
Q. The next round you have three good tracks you’ve been pretty good at. Which of the three do you feel like you could go out and win?
“All three have been really good to us the last couple years. We ran great at Martinsville. We’ve run great at Martinsville the last couple years. Had a great run in the spring running fourth in Texas. We were leading when we blew up about halfway through that race. Phoenix we led a lot, ended up third.
“I feel like they’re all really strong for us, it’s just a matter of executing. I feel like either one of those three races earlier this year we could have won. Just had a problem at Texas, just weren’t quite fast enough there at the end of those races.”
Q. What were your range of emotions from Dover, the cellar of the points, then coming in here knowing you have to run well, spin going onto pit road, coming back tonight one crash after another to win?
“Definitely a big range of emotions, right? This is what sports are about. From our trouble yesterday spinning coming out of pit road leading the race, that’s something you want to forget, right? You learn what to do better next time, but you want to forget about that.
“Then having a night in between is honestly worse. You’re kind of dwelling on it, Why the heck did I do that? That was dumb. Missing a bunch of wrecks (Monday).
“I feel like all the other speedway races this year we’ve gotten collected in someone else’s mess, none of our doing. A lot of guys had that happen today. Just the way speedway racing goes.
“We were able to be in our spot to see the wreck happen and miss it, which has not been the case this year for us. We’ve always been wadded up in it and know where to go.
“We were able to make it through those, capitalize on the opportunities we were given at the end of the race.”
Q. You said you felt like you had to win one of these next two races. When you get to this point, is it any different or how do you try to keep it the same from week‑to‑week because it’s the playoffs, it’s not the same?
“Same but it’s different. I mean, I always say our mindset every week, any team’s mindset, is to win the race every week, right? When you realize what’s on the line, I wouldn’t call our situation this weekend a must‑win situation. It was most likely we had to win the race here or Kansas to advance with how good guys were on points.
“It’s definitely a tough thing. We like to say there’s no pressure on it, but there’s a lot. There’s a lot of pressure internally that can sometimes come out. Maybe you don’t show it very often. I don’t show it very often, but it does come out every now and then because this is what you love to do. There’s a lot of things on the line.
“You go into these weekends kind of focused on there’s good and bad to having to win, you got nothing really to lose, right, you’re pretty far back, you’re going to be really aggressive on things. Then you know you have nothing to lose and you’re going to maybe put yourself in some sketchy situations.”
“There’s kind of good and bad to that. I’ve always kind of been a taking-chances kind of person. Even though I don’t want to see us in this situation, it kind of almost brings an extra fire to people.”
This week’s NASCAR race at Kansas: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400.
Distance: 267 laps, or 400 miles.
Where: Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt oval in Kansas City, Kan.
When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Chase Elliott.
Also this week: Kansas Lottery 300, Xfinity Series, Kansas Speedway, 3 p.m., Saturday, NBC.
Worth mentioning: This is the third and final race of the playoffs’ second round ... Christopher Bell leads Cole Custer by 12 points in the Xfinity Series playoff points standings.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Ryan Blaney: From worst in the playoff standings to a guaranteed spot in the third round — all in one race.
Brendan Gaughan: Flipped at Talladega, and stuck the landing.
Hendrick Motorsports: All three of Hendrick’s playoffs drivers -- Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron — are below the cutoff line.
Clint Bowyer: It’s a cruel sport — he ran well most of the day at Talladega until he spun out with 35 laps remaining. Finished 23rd and sits 11th in the standings.