NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Wins Wild Talladega

NASCAR Barometer: Blaney Wins Wild Talladega

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The GEICO 500 finally got underway Monday afternoon after rain and lightning forced the postponement from its scheduled start Sunday. After waiting through another short stoppage for rain at the end of the first stage, the rest of the race went off without interruption. The Penske Racing teammates found each other early and worked together to stave off challenges that came from other fast cars. Ryan Blaney was the one who led that trio with the aggressive pushing help from his two teammates behind. Blaney again forced his way to the lead in the final laps and survived a scrum off of the final turn to just barely edge from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the finish line to score his first win of 2020 and his second at Talladega. It was a deserved victory for Blaney after he led the most laps and just barely missing out on a stage win to Stenhouse earlier in the afternoon, too.

A double-header weekend of races is up next for the teams with back-to-back races at Pocono Raceway this weekend. While Ford has dominated Talladega recently, Toyota has been the one to beat at Pocono. Toyota drivers have won the last five races at the track, and should be contenders again after putting two of their drivers in the top five at Talladega. For his part, Blaney will have the comfort of a playoff position in his grasp with Monday's victory as he looks to build upon the early-season pace he has had

The GEICO 500 finally got underway Monday afternoon after rain and lightning forced the postponement from its scheduled start Sunday. After waiting through another short stoppage for rain at the end of the first stage, the rest of the race went off without interruption. The Penske Racing teammates found each other early and worked together to stave off challenges that came from other fast cars. Ryan Blaney was the one who led that trio with the aggressive pushing help from his two teammates behind. Blaney again forced his way to the lead in the final laps and survived a scrum off of the final turn to just barely edge from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the finish line to score his first win of 2020 and his second at Talladega. It was a deserved victory for Blaney after he led the most laps and just barely missing out on a stage win to Stenhouse earlier in the afternoon, too.

A double-header weekend of races is up next for the teams with back-to-back races at Pocono Raceway this weekend. While Ford has dominated Talladega recently, Toyota has been the one to beat at Pocono. Toyota drivers have won the last five races at the track, and should be contenders again after putting two of their drivers in the top five at Talladega. For his part, Blaney will have the comfort of a playoff position in his grasp with Monday's victory as he looks to build upon the early-season pace he has had since the season started in February.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Blaney entered Monday's delayed race as the driver who had led the most laps of anyone this season without a win. He got in front again early as the Penske Racing teammates teamed up to command as much of the race as possible and just barely missed winning the second stage after Stenhouse was pushed ahead by Kyle Busch. That narrow miss was made up for with a narrow win as he, Stenhouse, Erik Jones and Aric Almirola banged wheels as they raced to the checkered flag. It was his second consecutive win at Talladega and finally breaks his 2020 drought. Blaney won at Pocono in 2017 and only has one finish worse than 12th in his eight career starts and continues to be one of the fastest cars each week.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick used Richard Childress Racing speed to get his car in front as rain put an end to racing in the first stage. The stage win was a formality under caution after the track dried and NASCAR restarted the proceedings. Once racing resumed, the rookie driver kept his car at the front of the pack for most of the afternoon. Fuel mileage became a concern for most of the field as the laps counted down, and Reddick was not immune. He was forced into one final stop to get to the finish. Had there been enough fuel on board, we would probably be talking about a top-five finish. Instead, he was classified as the 20th finisher. Reddick has finishes of second and ninth in his two Xfinity series starts at Pocono.

Erik Jones – Many have been wondering exactly where Jones has been this season. While Denny Hamlin has been winning races, Kyle Busch and Jones have been floundering with a lack of pace. In particular, Jones has been absent at many of the tracks where fantasy owners would expect him to contend. He sits just outside of the playoff positions in the standings, but his fifth-place finish at Talladega could have been a win and broke a three-race skid of finishes outside of the top 20. Three fifth-place finishes are his best of the season. He and the team need to eliminate the finishes outside of the top 20 and replace them with consistent top-15 runs, even on bad days. His push for the win on Monday shows he could be finding his form again, however.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Stenhouse has become one of the most aggressive drivers on the two superspeedway courses, and he lived up to that reputation again Monday afternoon. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver worked his way forward in the pack and then linked up with Kyle Busch for much of the second stage. The tandem was effective, as the two worked together to battle the three Penske teammates, ultimately pipping Blaney at the line to win the second stage. A similar tale played out on the final lap with Blaney getting the edge to take the race win. It was an important race as Stenhouse continues to improve with his new team. Stenhouse has never finished in the top 10 at Pocono, and hasn't finished better than 21st in the last three races at the track, though.

Aric Almirola – Almirola slid across the finish line backward Monday at Talladega, but the effort earned him a third-place finish after he charged through the field in the final laps. The finish was his second top-five from the last two races, which ended a five-race slump of finishes 15th or lower. Stewart-Haas Racing is a team used to winning, and this year Almirola is underachieving what he accomplished just a year prior with the crew of the No. 10. The back-to-back top finishes for him could be the start of a new run of form that sees him achieving what the car is capable of. Pocono should be a good measure of where he is on that journey. He has two top-10 finishes from 15 career starts there, both of which came in the last two seasons.

DOWNGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott had a quick car Monday at Talladega and was making his presence felt at the front of the field through the first half of the distance. While racing on the back straight, he got a big push from Brad Keselowski that sent him spinning into the outside wall, only to be collected by an oncoming Austin Dillon. Elliott's race was effectively over at that point, but the team made some repairs and put him back on track for a few more laps before retiring. Elliott won one of the two Talladega races last season and will get another shot later this season. For now, he moves forward to Pocono where he has six top-10s from eight series starts, including a fourth-place finish in the first race there last season.

Austin Dillon – Part of racing at Talladega is the danger of getting caught in someone else's mistake. That is exactly what happened to Dillon in the GEICO 500. While teammate Tyler Reddick was racing at the front, Dillon found himself a bit farther back in the pack. When Keselowski and Elliott tangled in front of him, it proved he was in the wrong place at the wrong time . Dillon couldn't avoid Elliott's car as it bounced off of the wall, and the resulting damage put the team in the garage and out of the race. Dillon and the Richard Childress Racing organization has been on an upswing recently, so it'll be interesting to see how they respond this week at Pocono. Dillon's best finish at this track is 12th in 12 career starts.

Kyle Busch – Busch exited Monday's race at Talladega with a 32nd-place despite having one of the fastest cars for much of the race. A series of issues forced him to pit to replace a cut tire, which dropped him out of contention and left him multiple laps down to the leaders. It was another frustrating outing for the usually dominant driver still searching for his first win this season. The pressure continues to build as the team works to find the changes needed to overcome the lack of track time that's leaving them behind the competition at the moment. With back-to-back races at Pocono, the circuit is a good chance for them to do that. Busch has three wins there and needs to capitalize on this weekend's opportunity.

Matt Kenseth – Fantasy owners hoping that Matt Kenseth's return to racing would result in an immediate return to his previous success have been disappointed so far. That trend continued in Talladega where Kenseth was the first car out of the race after dropping out of the pack with a hub failure. The 40th-place finish marked his third straight finish outside of the top 20. Worse yet is that Kenseth has only two top-15 finishes in the nine races in which he has participated this season. No one should have felt his return wouldn't be without its struggles, but Kenseth is taking a bit longer to get going than most would have anticipated. For now, it may be best for fantasy owners to take a wait-and-see approach to selecting him until after he has rounded the corner.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin brushed the outside wall and suffered a tire failure as winds kicked up in the final laps of the opening stage. Luckily for Hamlin, the caution waved for rain just as he made it to pit road and he only lost one lap as the team replaced the tires and worked on damage from the contact. That proved to be his salvation as the team made repairs and kept him in the mix for the rest of the race. His car was so good that he found himself running among the top five in the final miles despite the early setback to grab his seventh top-five of the season. Hamlin has been superb at Pocono Raceway with five victories, including his first two series starts at the track. He also won the second race there last season.

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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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