NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Dodges Carnage to Win on Road Course

NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Dodges Carnage to Win on Road Course

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Ryan Blaney scored his first win of the season in dramatic fashion as he entered the final chicane in third and exited in first, as Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson collided ahead of him. Blaney's day was a great outing after winning the second stage with a fast car and smooth driving on an unknown and tricky new road course carved out of Charlotte Motor Speedway's infield. That course proved to be too much to handle for many competitors throughout the weekend, which made Blaney's triumph even more impressive. Avoiding the pitfalls that swallowed other competitors while focusing on making the moves he needed, put Blaney in position to capitalize, and with that he moves on to the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series playoffs.

This week begins the next round of eliminations that will take the field down to just eight championship contenders after three races. Leaving the battle for the trophy are Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin. Dover International Speedway is the first venue in the next leg of the journey. Kevin Harvick won at the track earlier this season, and another win this week would see him automatically among the final eight.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney added his sixth stage victory by leading the field to the checkered flag in the second stage of Sunday's road course race, and then took advantage of the carnage ahead of him to grab the race win, too. The remarkable and unexpected

Ryan Blaney scored his first win of the season in dramatic fashion as he entered the final chicane in third and exited in first, as Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson collided ahead of him. Blaney's day was a great outing after winning the second stage with a fast car and smooth driving on an unknown and tricky new road course carved out of Charlotte Motor Speedway's infield. That course proved to be too much to handle for many competitors throughout the weekend, which made Blaney's triumph even more impressive. Avoiding the pitfalls that swallowed other competitors while focusing on making the moves he needed, put Blaney in position to capitalize, and with that he moves on to the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series playoffs.

This week begins the next round of eliminations that will take the field down to just eight championship contenders after three races. Leaving the battle for the trophy are Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin. Dover International Speedway is the first venue in the next leg of the journey. Kevin Harvick won at the track earlier this season, and another win this week would see him automatically among the final eight.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney added his sixth stage victory by leading the field to the checkered flag in the second stage of Sunday's road course race, and then took advantage of the carnage ahead of him to grab the race win, too. The remarkable and unexpected success Sunday afternoon is exactly what he needed as he was in danger of slipping out of advancing in the playoffs. He joins teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano as winners this season, and now heads into the next round of playoffs full of confidence. Blaney equaled his best finish at Dover earlier this season when he finished eighth. He also finished eighth in his debut at the circuit but finished outside of the top 20 in his three other Cup series visits.

Kyle Larson – Larson was one of the few drivers near the top five in every session of the weekend, and it wasn't long before he passed Kurt Busch for the lead in the race. He held that position all the way through the first stage to grab the bonus points on offer but was caught up in a late crash that ultimately brought out the red flag. Larson's team scrambled to get the car running to make the last few laps, which paid off in the championship hunt. Those extra laps proved to be just enough to top Johnson to advance. Larson has only finished outside of the top 10 at Dover twice in his Cup career, and he started on pole earlier this season en route to one of those top-10s.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer was very downbeat about racing on the Charlotte road course but took a more positive tone this weekend. That may have paid off as he raced from a disappointing starting position to finish third and advance in the playoffs. Bowyer has always been known as a good racer on the road courses, and he proved that once again on Sunday. He consistently remained in touch with the top runners and did exactly what he needed to in order to move on to the round of 12 that kicks off this week. Looking ahead, Bowyer has 14 top-10 finishes at that track from 25 career starts. He and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates continue to be a threat as the championship battle moves onward.

Aric Almirola – Almirola had an up and down day at Charlotte but ended the afternoon on the right side of the playoff standings. His 19th-place finish was enough to put him into the round of 12 ahead of some others fantasy players who may have expected to advance ahead of him. Despite contact and a wounded machine, Almirola took the bit in his teeth and aggressively pursued every position on track as his team and spotter coached him through the order. By digging extra deep in a less than ideal position he and the team succeeded in joining the final 12 drivers still fighting for the 2018 championship. Almirola has two Dover top-five finishes and came home 11th at the track earlier this season.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray may not be in the playoffs or have a ride for 2019 but he gave himself a good advertisement with his runner-up finish at Charlotte. It was announced that McMurray wouldn't be the full-time driver of the No. 1 car next season, but the driver, who has won some of the biggest races in the sport, hasn't let off the gas just yet. While he says he has no plans for next season, he did himself a world of good with future employers by showing he can still compete at the highest level. Throughout the weekend he was a consistent top-10 driver and did little wrong on Sunday to come through a very tricky race with his best result of the season.

DOWNGRADE

Denny Hamlin – None of the things Hamlin needed in Sunday's race to ensure his spot in the round of 12 came to fruition. He had a rough start to the weekend, and started Sunday's race at the back of the field. He was unable to work his way forward, and early trouble even meant an off-cycle pit stop. He was well behind the cutoff as the final stage began, and his championship fight came to an end. While next week is another opportunity, he has never won at the track. In 25 tries, his best Dover finish is a pair of fourth-places. He finished seventh earlier this season, which was his fourth top-10 in his last five Dover races.

Erik Jones – Sunday's race put an end to Jones' hopes of advancing in the playoffs. The weekend started badly, as heavy contact forced him to a backup car and to the rear of the field for Sunday's race. Early contact in the race then put him behind and he wasn't able to recover. He continued to be bumped around throughout the day in a miserable final race of the first playoff round. The team simply didn't get the job done, and he joined Denny Hamlin in being well out of playoff contention before the start of the final stage and ultimately finished 30th. Jones has yet to score a top-10 at Dover. His three visits to the circuit have produced a best finish of 12th with an average finish of 15th.

Austin Dillon – Multiple hits prematurely ended Dillon's afternoon in Charlotte and his championship effort. The season started perfectly with a Daytona 500 win, but then ended with him failing to make it into the second round of the playoffs. Staying off of the outside wall may have helped him at least see the finish on Sunday, but the impacts compounded until a right-front failure sent him completely out of the race. In total, it hasn't been a bad year for Dillon, but he knows improvements must still come. At Dover he could get that ball rolling early. He has just one top-10 finish from 10 Dover tries and getting back up to speed and grabbing another this week could help boost his sagging confidence after last week's early exit.

Jimmie Johnson – This road course at Charlotte was exactly what Johnson needed to boost his flagging season. That played out to his favor right up until the final chicane before the finish. He has started to show speed recently, but truly came to life on the road course and was in touch for the win until overcooking it and losing control. He started behind the cutoff line in the playoffs and unfortunately remained there with his last-turn blunder. It ended up a terrible day, as he fell out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker. However, Dover has been one of Johnson's best tracks. He has one an astonishing 11 times from 33 races at the track and should never be counted out.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Alex Bowman – Not many fantasy owners would have picked Alex Bowman to advance to the second round of the playoffs at the expense of teammate and seven-time champion Johnson, but that is exactly what happened. Bowman found plenty of speed to be competitive this past weekend, picked up a top starting spot in qualifying and then drove consistently to avoid most of the trouble to finish fourth. He finished tied on points with Johnson but advanced due to his better single-race finish in the first round. It was a bittersweet moment for Hendrick Motorsports, but heralds the changing of the guard as Bowman begins what could be a long career with the organization. With a best finish of 20th he'll have to improve at Dover first, though.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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