TALLADEGA, Ala. — In a battle of Ford drivers determined to put the blue oval in victory lane at Talladega Superspeedway, Team Penske's Ryan Blaney held off Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick at the finish line Sunday afternoon in a NASCAR Cup Series playoff race.
The 29-year-old Blaney, who added a second victory this year after winning the Coca-Cola 600 in late May, won on Talladega's 2.66-mile oval for the third time as a Cup Series driver and secured his spot in the next round of the postseason.
Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series champ who is retiring after this season — he was eliminated from the playoff field last month when it was cut from its inital 16 drivers to 12 — remained winless this year. Making matters worse, he was disqualified nearly two hours after the race when his car failed inspection, dropping his place finish to last in the 38-car field.
NASCAR said the SHR No. 4 Ford was disqualified because the fasteners on its windshield were not secure.
Blaney used a crossover move from the outside lane to the inside to nudge ahead of Harvick with two laps remaining. Blaney and Harvick 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 four feet, the others were by two, but you just don't know," said Blaney, who won at the Alabama track in October 2019 and June 2020. "You just kind of drag race a line and hope you get help."
Blaney joined William Byron, who won a week earlier at Texas Motor Speedway in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet, as the two drivers locked into the round of eight. Byron initially finished third at Talladega, then bumped up a spot with the DQ of Harvick.
The field of 12 will be pared to eight after next Sunday's race on the Roval course at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Blaney's first win of the year was on the CMS oval, but the playoff race incorporates the venue's road course.
Team owner Roger Penske praised the strategy of the Ford camp to work together to ensure a Talladega victory for that manufacturer as the Hendrick Chevrolets were making a quick challenge late.
"For Harvick, who it was his last race here, working like he did with Ryan, it was amazing to see that," Penske said. "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, and Team Penske has won 10 of the past 18 races overall at the track.
Blaney has multiple wins in a season for the second time in his career, but the pair of victories are among just five top-five finishes total this year for him.
"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," Blaney said. "To win here three times at Talladega is super cool."
Harvick's winless streak reached 43 races dating to August 2022, when he won back-to-back events at Michigan International Speedway and Richmond Raceway. He joked the fans might have torn the Talladega grandstands down if he'd won, but the veteran driver settled for just not crashing.
"That would have been great. Talladega has been so up and down through the years. We've had some great moments and some bad moments," Harvick said. "The last superspeedway race, and we went out with everything rolling, so that's a good thing."
Those comments came after the race but before the disqualification announcement from NASCAR.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin rallied from a lap down to initially finish fourth before moving up to third when the results were changed. Either way, it was the best showing for a Toyota driver.
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 Series championship — and the penalty contributed to him falling a lap off the pace. It took him most of the race to earn his position back on the lead lap, and then he drove through the field to secure the top-five 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 of winning. "A top five is a long way from where we were with about 15 laps to go."
None of the rest of the top 10 finishers are in the playoff field. Corey LaJoie ultimately wound up fourth in a Spire Motorsports Chevy, followed by Penske's Austin Cindric, Justin Haley in a Kaulig Racing Chevy, Hendrick's Chase Elliott, SHR's Ryan Preece and Riley Herbst, and Trackhouse Racing's Daniel Suarez.
The race had 70 lead changes among 24 drivers and was fairly clean. Trackhouse driver Ross Chastain was in an early crash and finished ahead of only Harvick in the updated results. RFK Racing's Brad Keselowski crashed with 28 laps to go, which ended the race for him, caused damage to the outer wall and stopped all action under a red flag. Even though he finished 32nd, Keselowski remained two points above the cutline headed to next week's elimination race.
The four drivers in jeopardy of elimination are Tyler Reddick of 23XI Racing, Chastain, Bubba Wallace of 23XI and Richard Childress Racing's Kyle Busch — and he needs a win to advance.
Wallace, who wound up 23rd in the updated results, had a lengthy chat with 23XI co-owner Michael Jordan on pit road after the race. Jordan appeared to be encouraging him, at one point placing his hand on the back of Wallace's neck and then shoulder before pulling him in for a hug.
Chastain, the runner-up to Joey Logano for last year's Cup Series title, went from sixth in the standings headed to Talladega to below the cutline and facing a high-pressure situation on a Roval course where he has struggled. His best finish in four tries on that layout is 22nd.
How does he expect next week to go for him?
"Left and right," he said. "I'm living my dream, so whatever our team brings next week, we'll put our best foot forward. As long as I'm getting to drive these rocket ships that Trackhouse brings me, I'm living my dream and we'll keep fighting."