Ryan Blaney wins rain-postponed 1000Bulbs.com 500 in photo finish

by Justin Nguyen

The Monster Energy Cup Series visited Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday for the 1000Bulbs.com 500, a race that proved to be a wet one as rain hit the track after one stage. After being moved to Monday, the two stages saw drama from manufacturer orders to late-race wrecks before Ryan Blaney barely beat out Ryan Newman for a dramatic race win.

Hendrick Motorsports dominated qualifying as all four drivers claimed the top four positions, with Chase Elliott taking his first Talladega pole since 2016. Alex Bowman joined his team-mate on the front row, with William Byron and Jimmie Johnson behind. Denny Hamlin started at the rear after changing an engine. As a superspeedway race, Talladega frequently draws one-off contenders: Brendan Gaughan, who has exclusively run plate tracks since 2017, qualified twenty-eighth, while Blake Jones, a former Talladega race winner in the ARCA Menards Series and running his first Cup race of 2019, started thirty-fifth.

During pace laps, Richard Childress drove the famed #3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt drove to victory in his final Cup win at Talladega in 2000.

Stage #1

The Hendrick drivers elected to commit to the bottom line for the start of the race. On the outside, the Ford duo of Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer quickly got to work to pull ahead.

Austin Dillon took the lead on lap five. After starting fortieth, Hamlin charged to the front and was already in the top five. After Hamlin pushed Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Kyle Busch past Dillon for first, he fell off the pace. Kurt Busch also led laps starting on lap ten with his younger brother in tow.

Blaney, pushed by Kevin Harvick, took the lead on lap 20. Fifteen laps later, while attempting to begin green-flag pit stops, he spun and slid through pit road. Although he recovered, he was penalised for speeding.

On lap 37, Spencer Boyd – who won Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race – stalled in turn three for the first caution of the day; he later retired with fuel pressure issues. The yellow came at an opportune time for Blaney, who had been required to serve a pass-through penalty under green.

The race resumed on lap 41 with Keselowski and Newman battling for the lead. As the race continued, the field organised into tandem drafting, with Keselowski being pushed by Bowyer and Busch receiving help from David Ragan, while Elliott and Bowman worked together. Elliott successfully cleared the field for the lead on lap 47.

On lap 51, with five laps remaining in the stage, Erik Jones suffered a flat tyre that forced him to pit. At the front, Daniel Hemric and Byron spent time in front. Although Joey Logano closed in on Byron, the Cup Series sophomore was able to hold him off for the stage win.

As Logano settled for second, Bowman finished third, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Johnson, Daniel Suárez, Busch, and Blaney.

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Stage #2

Between stages, the rain arrived and forced the red flag. During the delay, Paul Menard was replaced by Matt Crafton in the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford; Menard had been dealing with neck pain during the weekend, which led to the two-time Truck champion and Saturday’s Truck pole-sitter practicing his car on Friday (during which he was third fastest). Crafton had been scheduled to replace Menard during the lap 37 caution, but NASCAR’s rush to wave the green flag due to weather concerns forced the team to call it off.

The weather ultimately failed to cooperate, and two hours after the initial red flag, NASCAR postponed the remainder of the race until Monday. As a result, the 1000Bulbs.com 500 became the first Monday playoff race since the 2011 GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

When Monday afternoon arrived, the race returned, having completed 57 laps. On pit road, Blaney was the first to leave with Byron behind, while Ryan Newman pitted too soon and was penalised; his #6 team had deliberately pitted early to start at the rear. Ryan Preece suffered an uncontrolled tyre penalty and Gaughan sped on pit road. Meanwhile, Keselowski’s car stalled and needed a track truck to re-fire it.

The race finally resumed on lap 63 with Blaney leading. Bowyer caught up to the leader with help from Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Suarez. Five laps into the restart, Hamlin’s hood flap came off, causing him to fall off the pace.

Logano and Eliott also led laps, doing so with their respective manufacturer allies. During Sunday’s rain delay, the Chevrolet camp conducted a meeting to reaffirm their intentions to work together and avoid competing with one another, including not cooperating with drivers of other makes. The plan was criticised by NBC analysts and former drivers Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, while NBC’s Dale Eanhardt Jr. posted his disdain for manufacturer orders:

Green-flag stops began on lap 90 for strictly fuel, each doing so in manufacturer waves. Along the way, multiple drivers were slapped with speeding penalties: Hamlin, Truex, Gaughan, Crafton, Stenhouse, and Corey LaJoie.

After the pit cycle, Johnson found himself in front before Elliott took the lead. As Elliott worked with Bowman, Logano and Bowyer pushed their ways to the front.

On lap 107, Bowman was hit from behind by a charging Logano, sending the #88 off course before sliding onto the track and collecting Larson and Johnson. Elliott, Preece, Hamlin, and Truex all sustained damage in the wreck.

“Everyone needs to get off Alex about [the wreck],” Bowman’s spotter Kevin Hamlin tweeted. “It was my fault not his, I told him to get to the bottom with a run coming. 100% on me.”

Bowman, who assumed responsibility during his interview with NBCSN, did the same on Twitter, saying he “[d]idn’t realize how fast the 22 was coming and shouldn’t have attempted to block that big run. Sorry to those involved.”

The stage ended under yellow as a result of the wreck, with Bowyer taking the green-checkered flag ahead of Logano, Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Suárez, Blaney, Chris Buescher, Ku. Busch, Byron, and Ky. Busch.

Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Stage #3

Keselowski led the field to the final stage’s green flag on lap 117 as Bowyer, who restarted alongside him, committed to the outside to join his draft.

On lap 122, Darrell Wallace Jr. was clipped by Jones on the backstretch to bring out the yellow flag. During stops, Byron, Ku. Busch, and Elliott pitted. The green waved on lap 125 with Bowyer in front, though Ky. Busch passed him shortly after. Logano became the leader on lap 127.

As the field ran single file, Aric Almirola moved up to second. On lap 134, Truex’s tyre came apart on the backstretch to produce a yellow; he had been running in thirty-second. Stenhouse was the first off pit road, while Bowyer returned to the pits to add more fuel and Harvick suffered a slow stop after one of his tyre changers did not tighten every lug nut on the right front.

The race got back underway on lap 138 with Stenhouse and Ky. Busch leading. As Busch and Elliott led the middle and inside lines respectively, Team Penske drivers Logano and Blaney drafted Stenhouse along the outside. When Stenhouse came down to block Busch, Logano ran side-by-side with the #17 but Stenhouse maintained his lead before rejoining his Ford contingent.

On lap 151, with help from Elliott, Busch slung to the lead. Two laps later, Bowyer spun in turn three and his car became lodged between the apron and infield grass.

Byron and Buescher paced the grid to the lap 158 restart, from which the top six organised single file. Two laps later, Stenhouse charged to the lead with Almirola’s support.

On lap 163, Byron received too strong of a push from Ku. Busch and turned into Logano, sending the #22 briefly airborne. This triggered a crash that collected Crafton, Preece, Suárez, Preece, Timmy Hill, and Erik Jones.

The restart commenced with 19 laps to go as Stenhouse continued to lead. Stenhouse and Ku. Busch led the two lanes, pushed by Ragan (outside) and Ky. Busch (inside), respectively. After two laps of green-flag racing, Suarez spun through the grass in turn three for the yellow; his time expired on the damage clock, forcing him out of the race.

Lap 176 the restart with Stenhouse and Busch in front. While Matt DiBenedetto pushed Busch on the outside, Ragan continued to aid his fellow Ford driver Stenhouse on the inside. Busch and DiBenedetto eventually cleared Stenhouse. Two laps later, Stenhouse surged to the front on the inside, shuffling Busch back on the outside.

By lap 180, Ky. Busch formed an outside line with Kurt between him and Stenhouse. Kyle successfully cleared the two lanes, but his race quickly took a literal turn when he made contact with Stenhouse, sending him in front of the pack and triggering the infamous “Big One”. Gaughan, who was running on the outside, was sent into a flip over Ku. Busch and landed on his wheels, while DiBendetto, Ragan, Keselowski, and Harvick were also collected.

Red flag conditions came out for the second time to clean up the carnage. After 12 minutes, NASCAR switched to the yellow flag.

The final restart took place with two laps to go as Blaney and Ty Dillon comprised the front row. A push by Almirola and Michael McDowell on the inside elevated Blaney to the front while Dillon fell back. The top six ran single file coming to the white flag before Newman on the outside with Hamlin’s help pushed to the front.

Coming to the tri-oval, Buescher and Parker Kligerman wrecked. At the front, Blaney and Newman ran side-by-side as the former edged him out by seven-thousandths of a second for his first win of 2019 and clinching him a spot in the Round of 8. The finish is the sixth-closest in Talladega history.

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