CONCORD, N.C. – Sunday afternoon, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL both lived up to the hype and proved that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
In a frenetic, fender-banging duel to the finish, Ryan Blaney stole the lead in the final chicane after Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson crashed ahead of him and went on to win the inaugural Bank of America ROVAL 400.
Blaney led 16 of 109 laps in the event, but it was the final one that was both the most important and the most drama-filled. Blaney began the last lap running third behind Truex and Johnson, who were leading the race following the final restart with three to go.
Johnson dogged Truex all the way until the white flag, when the seven-time champion got a good run coming out of the infield section of the 17-turn, 2.28-mile course and closed right to the back bumper of the race leader exiting the bus-stop chicane on the backstretch.
Coming through the banking in turns three and four of the oval layout, Johnson laid a bump to the rear of Truex’s Toyota before taking his Chevrolet to driver’s left going into turn 15. Johnson then locked the brakes up and spun into turn 16 as Truex tried to sneak through to hang on for the win.
However, the rear of Johnson’s car tagged Truex’s right-rear fender and sent the defending champion spinning as well, parting the seas for Blaney to pass both of them and pick up the victory.
“I was really just riding third. We were good to go on points and were going to advance to the next round on points (with) no problems,” noted Blaney. “They were so far ahead that I wasn’t even really trying … and then I saw them kind of close to each other through the oval track in three and four, and I was like, ‘Oh, something might happen here.’
“Sure enough, we went down in there and they touched just trying to win the race and I got lucky enough to sneak through there,” Blaney continued. “That’s not how you really want to win them. I’d rather go out and dominate the race and win by a lap, but you’ve got to take them how you can get them nowadays. We put ourselves in a spot to be there, though. It just worked out for us.”
Sunday’s triumph, which propelled Blaney into the next round of the playoffs, marked his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and first as a member of Team Penske.
It was also the first time, at least in his recollection, that he’d won a race after entering the final corner in third.
“This is really cool. It’s a different way than I’ve ever won one before in my life,” Blaney admitted. “I’ve never been running third and had two guys wreck and won. I’ve never had that happen to me before … but it is neat. … It’s just a really cool day, a kind of unexpected ending to the day and it left us happy. I’m sure there will be times when the tables are turned on me and I’m leading and me and second wreck each other and third wins because it all comes full circle here, but it worked out for us on this one.”