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Jim Utter

Blaney beats Harvick in photo finish for Talladega playoff win

As Sunday’s race wound to a finish, Blaney and Harvick found themselves swapping pushes and the lead.

With two of 188 laps remaining, Harvick – looking for his first win in his last fulltime season – appeared to have control of the race but saw Blaney edge past him for the lead thanks to help from Riley Herbst.

Blaney and Harvick raced side-by-side virtually the entire final lap but as a wreck erupted behind them on the frontstretch, Blaney nipped Harvick’s No. 4 Ford 0.012 seconds to earn his second win of the 2023 season.

"It was a pretty wild restart but 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. "I’m just proud of the whole No. 12 group - everybody who makes this possible.  

"To win here three times at Talladega is super-cool. I have to give a big thanks to Riley Herbst. He did a really good job there the last couple restarts. He doesn’t have a lot of Cup starts, but he did a great job and pushed me so thanks to him. This is so cool.”

The victory sends Blaney into the semifinal round of the playoffs regardless of his finish in next weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. It’s the ninth win of Blaney’s career, with a third of them coming at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

William Byron finished third, Denny Hamlin was fourth and Corey LaJoie rounded out the top five.

Completing the top-10 were Austin Cindric, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Ryan Preece and Herbst.

The four drivers lowest in points without a win and most in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs with one race remaining in this round are Kyle Busch, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick.

Stage 1

Blaney took the Stage 1 win under caution as Chastain made contact with Busch and then slammed the wall on the final of 60 laps. The incident appeared to be triggered when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran out of fuel and slowed dramatically.

Byron ended up second, Larson third, Elliott fourth and Bowman rounded out the top five.

Stage 2

Keselowski held off a late charge from Byron by 0.070 seconds to take the Stage 2 win. Logano was third, Austin Dillon fourth and Elliott fifth.

During a round of green flag pit stops, both Hamlin and Cindric were assessed drive through penalties for speeding during their respective stops.

Stage 3

Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, all the lead-lap cars pit with Logano first off pit road. Ty Gibbs drove off with his gas can still attached to his No. 54 Toyota and it caught fire after it dropped on pit road.

Logano remained out front when the race resumed with 63 laps to go while Gibbs had to start from the rear of the field for removing equipment from his stall.

With 50 laps remaining, Logano maintained a small lead over Keselowski and Elliott close behind in third.

Byron led the way from the inside lane as the pack briefly went four-wide with several cars dropping back through the field with 30 laps remaining.

Exiting off Turn 4 and coming down the frontstretch on lap 162, Keselowski got into the back of Carson Hocevar and turned him into the wall which triggered a multi-car wreck that also collected Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe and Gibbs.

NASCAR was forced to red flag the race for nearly 10 minutes to clean the track of debris and repair and area of the SAFER barrier in the trioval.

All of the lead-lap cars pit with Aric Almirola first off pit road. He led Harvick and Alex Bowman when the race resumed with 20 laps to go.

Bowman led Blaney and Almirola on a restart with 13 laps remaining following a caution for debris in the racing groove on the backstretch.

Harvick got a push into the lead from Blaney with 10 laps to go and the two engaged in a nip-and-tuck battle to the checkered flag.

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